The Scarlet Letter Chapter 11 Summary

Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

'The Scarlet Letter' tells the story of sin, confession, pain and truth in 1700s Puritan Boston. Chapter 11 dives deeper in the relationship of Chillingworth and the Reverend.

A Previous Scare

In the previous chapter, Roger Chillingworth discovered something on Reverend Dimmesdale's chest while he was sleeping. What it was, we will just have to keep guessing, because Chillingworth is keeping it to himself for now. Whatever it was though, it has made Chillingworth's behavior sound just like his name -- chilling.

Chapter 11 Summary: A Vicious Cycle

After his discovery of the mysterious 'something' on the Reverend's chest, Chillingworth becomes even closer to Dimmesdale, but in a more malicious way. It's as if he has solved a puzzle and knows exactly what is eating away at Dimmesdale's physical and spiritual health. And instead of helping him, Chillingworth uses this newfound information to antagonize the minister.

Chillingworth is no longer just watching the Reverend's suffering, he is now participating in it. His malice and evil intentions are truly beginning to show, leading us to believe that whatever he found is more than just something related to Dimmesdale.

While Dimmesdale sometimes can see the evil in Chillingworth's eyes, he believes that his self-inflicted pain is poisoning his perspective. The Reverend thinks he should have no reason to trust Chillingworth, but then finds no reason to trust himself either. Instead of following his instincts that tell him Chillingworth shouldn't be trusted, he continues to grow closer to him, which just causes more pain. It's a vicious cycle that is never ending for the poor Reverend.

The Good Reverend

The good news for Reverend Dimmesdale? His pain and suffering are helping his sermons and gaining him popularity in the community. Other members of the clergy have more experience and more education, but Dimmesdale's greatest gift is to speak the truth. Instead of speaking 'at' his community, he speaks 'to' them, empathizing with their pain and sins. People flock to his sermons, calling him 'a miracle of holiness.' This is sad because Dimmesdale never thinks of himself like this. He believes he will be tormented by his sin even after death.

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