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Excerpt from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne

Excerpt from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

Melissa Pennell points out that Dimmesdale's hypocrisy is so deep and so well preserved by him that, even when he attempts to shed his false self and reveal the truth, many fail to believe he has sin. Thus the scrupulous construction of his seven-year lie robs him of the very relief he seeks in giving it up.

 

"Dimmesdale also resents one self to his congregation while he reveals another in private, but his self-concealment reflects hypocrisy. He claims that it is the congregation that sees him as saintly and as the perfect husband for some village maiden. Dimmesdale, however, goes to great pains to preserve this image, even though he begins to show signs of his inner torment. He is especially proud of his voice and thinks it one 'the angels might else have listened to and answered.' He acts in ways that are expected of him and is scrupulous in his public conduct toward Hester and Pearl, going so far as to lay his hand on Pearl's head in public benediction as he would any child's in the community.

The very quality of his public image makes Dimmesdale's private self intolerable to him. He knows the truth and longs to announce it, naming himself 'a pollution and a lie.' The narrator, however, reveals the full picture, that Dimmesdale's public posturing has insured that his confession will not be believed. Spurred on by his self-loathing, the minister privately inflicts physical tortures upon himself, but these, like his sham confessions, bring him no catharsis. Even in the final scaffold scene, when all is to be revealed, Dimmesdale's public image serves to sustain the expectations of his congregation, many of whom see no sign of his sin at the end" (80-81).




Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11784/


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