Hawthorne in Salem Search Hawthorne in Salem





Facebook Page
[Home]  

Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Scarlet Letter

Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Scarlet Letter

Here Hawthorne illustrates how Arthur Dimmesdale's guilty misery leads him to discount those healthy intuitions that otherwise would have allowed him to defend himself from the evil machinations of Roger Chillingworth. False in one part of his consciousness, Dimmesdale has no faith in himself and so unwittingly aids his fiercest enemy.

The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had balked at this scheme. Roger Chillingworth, however, was inclined to be hardly, if at all, less satisfied with the aspect of affairs, which Providence--using the avenger and his victim for its own purposes, and, perchance, pardoning, where it seemed most to punish--had substituted for his black devices. A revelation, he could almost say, had been granted to him. It mattered little, for his object, whether celestial, or from what other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the external presence, but the very inmost soul of the latter seemed to be brought out before his eyes, so that he could see and comprehend its every movement. He became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief actor, in the poor minister's interior world. He could play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him with a throb of agony? The victim was for ever on the rack; it needed only to know the spring that controlled the engine;--and the physician knew it well! Would he startle him with sudden fear? As at the waving of a magician's wand, uprose a grisly phantom,--uprose a thousand phantoms,--in many shapes, of death, or more awful shame, all flocking round about the clergyman, and pointing with their fingers at his breast! All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect, that the minister, though he had constantly a dim perception of some evil influence watching over him, could never gain a knowledge of its actual nature. True, he looked doubtfully, fearfully,--even, at times, with horror and the bitterness of hatred,--at the deformed figure of the old physician. His gestures, his gait, his grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, the very fashion of his garments, were odious in the clergyman's sight; a token, implicitly to be relied on, of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than he was willing to acknowledge to himself. For, as it was impossible to assign a reason for such distrust and abhorrence, so Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was infecting his heart's entire substance, attributed all his presentiments to no other cause. He took himself to task for his bad sympathies in reference to Roger Chillingworth, disregarded the lesson that he should have drawn from them, and did his best to root them out. Unable to accomplish this, he nevertheless, as a matter of principle, continued his habits of social familiarity with the old man, and thus gave him constant opportunities for perfecting the purpose to which--poor, forlorn creature that he was, and more wretched than his victim--the avenger had devoted himself.



Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11669/


About US Privacy Policy Copyright Credits Site Map Site Help