February 17, 2020

The Hidden “A” by Haley Dempsey

A Character Analysis From the Scarlet Letter

The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is a well respected man, but in spite of his apparent godliness and purity he refuses to reveal himself as Hester Prynne’s lover for fear of public reproach. In “The Scarlet Letter” Nathaniel Hawethorne does a wonderful job of bringing Arthur Dimmesdale to life through dramatic scenes and his captivating personality. While the Reverand appears to be a pious man, he hides his sin trying to make it right himself. If he reveals his sin and repents, he will find peace that he cannot have any other way. Reverend Dimmesdale is an example of the effect of sin upon a person’s life, how any person can be hypocritical, and that no matter how hard a person may try to hide his sin, your sins will always find you out.

Reverend Dimmesdale is an man with a very sensitive conscience in regards to sin, but chooses to conceal his sin of adultery from the public. As a result of remaining silent, the minister’s health declines drastically over a period of seven years and he is seen with his hand constantly over his heart. The narrator of the story remarks, “Poor, miserable man! What right had infirmity like his to burden itself with crime? Crime is for the iron-nerved, who have their choices either to endure it, or if it press too hard, to exert their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose, and fling it off at once!” (pg. 169) The Reverend is too feeble and weak to carry the guilty weight of his secret sin; it is a greater burden than if the whole world were placed upon his shoulders. Dimmesdale’s refusal to confess ultimately brings him to his death, where in his last moments he confesses his sin and reveals the letter “A” that is on the skin where he holds his hand over his heart.

In addition to the effect of sin on Dimmesdale’s life, he is seen to be extremely hypocritical . Even in Hester’s public sentencing, Dimmesdale pleads with her saying, “Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him-yea-compel his as it were to add hypocrisy to sin.” (pg. 74) The Reverend pleads with her to reveal her lover to the crowd, but instead of stepping forward himself and speaking up, he leaves it up to Hester. Dimmesdale refuses the idea of public shame and therefore does not reveal himself as Hester’s lover. Dimmesdale’s hypocrisy is revealed again by Hester’s daughter Pearl when speaking to her mother in the following, “‘What a strange, sad man is he!’ said the child, as if speaking partly to herself. ‘In the dark night-time, he calls up to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strips of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kissed my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But, here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart.’” (pg. 267) The Reverend’s life is seen as being one of hypocrisy; he is the godly, esteemed minister in public, while in reality he is a guilty adulterer hidden beneath his public position in society.

Dimmesdale, being the minister of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, compeled him to conceal his sin because of he pride. He does not want to give up his position, but rather he wants to continue to be the spiritual leader of the town. The Reverend hides behind his pastoral ministry and even devotes himself more to his preaching and religious duties to try to hide his sin. The narrator describes Dimmesdale at the beginning of the story saying, “His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession.” (pg. 73) This shows that Arthur Dimmesdale at the beginning of the book  is esteemed for his eloquence and devotion in religion. Therefore, when he hides his sin underneath more religious duties he is seen to be all the more holy and the last person the towns people suspect of committing adultery. Although Reverend Dimmesdale puts forth much effort to conceal his sin, it is ultimately revealed. After Dimmesdale preaches his sermon for a town event, with all the people gathered together in town and knowing he is going to die soon, he goes to the scaffold calling Hester and Pearl to be with him. There, on the scaffold, Dimmesdale confesses that he is Hester’s lover and he has kept it hidden for the seven years since Hester’s sentencing. He also removes the ministerial bands from his breast and reveals a symbol, in the shape of the letter “A.” The “A” revealed on his skin represents that no matter how hard he tries to hide his sin, the sin will surface and will ultimately  be revealed. Dimmesdale’s sin, which has plagued him for so long, is finally revealed.  And although he dies, he dies in triumph and peace knowing that his sin is finally known.

Arthur Dimmesdale’s life is an example of how a person’s sin can have drastic effects on his life; how it is easier to be hypocritical than honest and truthful; and that a person’s hidden sin will be revealed. Dimmesdale is a dynamic character and holds the reader’s attention throughout the book. The reader does feel sorry for Dimmesdale because of what he suffers but also sees him to be cowardly because he does not reveal his sin until he is about to die.  Dimmesdale goes from being a young, handsome, godly minister to a weak, feeble, hypocritical adulterer who dies from the continual gnawing of the guilt of his sin.

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