Reverend Dimmesdale

"Life is hard, but accepting that fact makes it easier." this common phrase has

been proven true in many people's lives, but is also a harsh fact that Boston's Rev.

Dimmesdale, a key character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's the Scarlet Letter, had to face.

In this twisted story of deception and adultery set in the Puritan era, Hawthorne

introduces Dimmesdale as a weak and cowardly man who refuses to take responsibility

for his actions. Yet, he transitions to a person who accepts his sins and the

consequences, before it is too late, ultimately finding happiness.

At the beginning of the novel, Dimmesdale has established quite a reputation

for himself. In discussing individual members of the magistrate, the towns people

describe Dimmesdale as a "God fearing" gentleman, "but merciful overmuch (49)".

Due to his actions, all of the people respect and look up to the Reverend.

Throughout the story, Dimmesdale desperately tries to confess, envying Hester, for

her courage, he says, "Happy are you Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly

upon your bosom! (188)" Even at the end of the novel, when finally attempting to

confess, people are compelled by his final sermon, raving that "never had a man

spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit, as he that spake this day (p.243)".

Proving that he was a very loved and influential man in the small town.

In further developing Dimmesdale's character, Hawthorne portrays him as a

hypocrite. His outward demeanor deceives the villagers, appearing as a completely

holy man. However, before the action of the novel begins, he stumbles into sin, by

committing adultery with Hester Pryne, an attractive young woman whose husband has

been long absent on a journey, and presumed dead. His cowardly outlook on his

sins only causes his troubles to snowball. Abandoning Hester and her illegitimate

daughter Pearl, also augmented his problems. Forcing Hester to go and find work

around town, an obviously hard task for a single parent. He also abandons them

emotionally and physically, rarely there when Hester and Pearl needed him. Innocent

little Pearl wonders why Dimmesdale is so afraid of public displays of affection, yet

when they are alone, he takes notice of her and Hester; talking to him, Pearl asks"

'Wilt thou stand here with Mother and me, tomorrow noontide?' (p.149)". A question

whose answer is unclear for Pearl. In fact, the only way Hester and Pearl receive any

kind of support from Dimmesdale is when Hester threatens to tell the truth about his


The fact that Dimmesdale is a hypocrite causes him to experience increased

torment due to his guilt. Hawthorne's point is beautifully illustrated by Dimmesdale,

because if he was not such a highly religious man, then he would not care about his

crime. However, he does care, and he inflicts torment on himself, including long

periods of fasting, in addition to hours of staring at himself in the mirror, he could

also be caught numerous times in his closet, whipping himself and burning the letter

"A" on his chest, or at the scaffold in the wee hours of the morning, practicing how

he is going to confess the next day. Deluding himself by pretending that his private

punishment is adequate. Similarly, there are also some things that go on that are out

of Dimmesdale's control. For example, bizarre thoughts and hallucinations take over

him. His outward appearance also reflects this. To illustrate, "...his cheek was paler

and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before-when it had now become a

constant press his hand over his heart.. (118)". "He thus typified the

constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself (141)".

Proving, once again, that no good came out of his self-inflicted punishment. Even

though he was privately repentant at home, his ministerial duties were carried out,

attempting to keep his personal life out of the church.

Dimmesdale refuses to confess, rationalizing that if he did, he would not be

able to continue preaching and doing good deeds for the people; attempting to

balance the scale. " 'These men deceive themselves' ", as stated by Dimmesdales's

doctor, referring to people who believe that they can balance the scales by "doing

good deeds (129)".

However, at the conclusion of the novel, Dimmesdale takes an enormous load

off of his back when he swallows his pride and finally confesses. After he sees himself

transformed into a man that wants to teach children blasphemous words, and to sing

and get drunk with visiting sailors, or to violate a new bride; he realizes that the only

way to happiness was not through self-punishment, but through honesty. Bravely

confessing on the scaffold, yet doing