John Gatta suggests that one of the ironies of The Scarlet Letter
is that it is the torture Roger Chillingworth inflicts upon Arthur Dimmesdale
that, in the end, lead the minister to his saving confession. Of particular
interest her is Gatta's notion that Chillingworth's work is effected by breaking
down Dimmesdale's "psychic defenses," that arrogance that kept him from confession
in the first place.
"Yet in the process of tormenting his victim, Chillingworth at the
same time reveals a mysterious, unholy kinship with the minister. It is precisely
by breaking down Dimmedsale's psychic defenses that Chillingworth helps draw
him finally up to the scaffold, to public confession, and thereby to whatever
solace and integrity he is stall capable of realizing in his broken condition.
Despite himself, then, Chillingworth leads Dimmesdale toward salvation-or
at least toward what the minister perhaps mistakenly, conceives to be his
salvation and 'triumphant ignominy'" (273).