Three Scaffold Scenes - Progression Of Dimmesdale Essay

This essay has a total of 799 words and 4 pages.

Three Scaffold Scenes - Progression Of Dimmesdale

In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays Arthur Dimmesdale as a troubled
individual. In him lies the central conflict of the book. Dimmesdale's soul is torn
between two opposing forces: his heart, his love for freedom and his passion for Hester
Prynne, and his head, his knowledge of Puritanism and its denial of fleshly love. He has
committed the sin of adultery but cannot seek divine forgiveness, believing as the
Puritans did that sinners received no grace. His dilemma, his struggle to cope with sin,
manifests itself in the three scaffold scenes depicted in The Scarlet Letter. These scenes
form a progression through which Dimmesdale at first denies, then accepts reluctantly, and
finally conquers his sin.


During Hester Prynne's three-hour ignominy, Dimmesdale openly denies his sin. Hawthorne
introduces Dimmesdale as "a being who felt himself quite astray and at a loss in the
pathway of human existence" (64). The author made it obvious that a grim secret lies
hidden in the depths of Dimmesdale's soul. This secret, however, does not reveal itself
immediately, since Dimmesdale hides it from the closely watching town. In addition, he
magnifies his own denial of his sin when he charges Hester to "speak out the name of thy
fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer"(65). By deliberately speaking to Hester as if the
sinner were not himself, the pastor makes sure that nobody suspects him. One may also
interpret Dimmesdale's speech as a hint to Hester not to name him. He feels he must "add
hypocrisy to sin" in order to keep his standing in the town. He thinks that if the town
finds out about his sin, they will never forgive him, much like his belief system tells
him that God will never forgive him. So great is his relief when he finds that "she will
not speak" that he stands in awe of the "wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's
heart"(66). Despite an inward wish for his sin to be discovered, Dimmesdale feels better
knowing that Hester will not willingly expose him. In this scene in front of the town,
Dimmesdale shows his original strength of character, which will diminish along the course
of the book.


In the middle of the night, seven years after Hester's punishment, Dimmesdale holds a
vigil on the scaffold where he finally accepts his sin. The battle within Dimmesdale
between "Remorse, which dogged him everywhere" and "Cowardice, which invariably drew him
back"(144) leads to a temporary compromise in his midnight vigil. Here, he openly
confesses his sin not to the town, but to himself. This proves as a gigantic step toward
salvation-his self-forgiveness. In addition, the death of Governor Winthrop not only
represents the death of Puritan society, but also the death of certain Puritan values
within Dimmesdale. He no longer buries his sin deep within himself. His sin rests on the
surface of his soul (and his chest as well)-a condition that causes his already pejorative
health to waste away even faster. This scene shows the progressive weakening of
Dimmesdale's Puritan inhibitions as well as the continuous strengthening of his passionate
side.

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