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Dimmesdale Quotes from The Scarlet Letter: Examples & Analysis

Dimmesdale Quotes from The Scarlet Letter: Examples & Analysis
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  • 0:01 Who Is Dimmesdale?
  • 1:18 Dimmesdale's Guilt
  • 2:40 Refusal To Confess & Forgive
  • 3:53 Chillingsworth's Part
  • 4:43 Dimmesdale's End
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

This lesson is a collection of quotes from the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel 'The Scarlet Letter'. Included is an analysis of Dimmesdale's character and his development throughout the novel.

Who Is Dimmesdale?

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne writes, 'No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.'

On the one hand, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is much respected by his flock. On the other hand, he's the man who secretly rendezvoused with Hester (a married woman) in the forest and fathered their love child. Until the climax of the novel where Dimmesdale publicly confesses on the scaffold, he internalizes his shame and guilt to such a degree that these feelings manifest themselves physically through the reverend's poor health and mental torment.

Eventually, Dimmesdale's guilt destroys him. He spends much of the time punishing himself privately but refusing to publicly claim the sin that he feels he is guilty of. He is weak in the sense that he cowers in secrecy and experiences continued respect while Hester is ostracized, or excluded, from the community. He cannot accept forgiveness and start a new life with Hester and Pearl, their daughter, in England.

Let's take a look at some quotes that reveal more about Dimmesdale's character.

Dimmesdale's Guilt

Dimmedale's cowardice is shown early in the novel. When Hester is sentenced for her crime, Dimmesdale addresses her. He is too weak to confess, and so leaves it to her, wanting her to take on the responsibility of his punishment, too. He says to her, in front of the crowd:

'I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!...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 him, as it were--to add hypocrisy to sin?'

Hester does not name him however, and Dimmesdale remains publicly adored. His guilt eats at him though, and his self-hatred gets pretty disturbing. He has a whip that he uses to flog himself when he's alone, and he laughs at himself and the wicked weakness that he sees within. Hawthorne writes:

'In Mr. Dimmesdale's secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders, laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh.'

Refusal to Confess and Forgive

In a rare moment when Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale are together, Pearl asks him why he won't join them on the scaffold since they are a family. But at this point Dimmesdale still believes that this will never happen in life, only when they face God after death. He responds, 'At the great judgment day...thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together! But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!'

Hester doesn't necessarily think that her romance with Dimmesdale was right, but she believes that Dimmesdale could find forgiveness and peace if he just accepted it. She says, 'Heaven would show mercy hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it.'

But, he cannot let it go. He says that if he'd done enough to repent for it:

'I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret!'

Dimmesdale feels Hester is lucky that she has to wear the scarlet letter openly, as his sin is more difficult to bear because everyone still thinks he is a model of holiness.

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