The Scarlet Letter: Chillingworth Quotes - Examples & Analysis

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  • 0:03 The Surprise
  • 0:29 The Secret
  • 1:12 Psychological Torture
  • 2:22 The Fiend
  • 3:31 Analysis
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In 'The Scarlet Letter' by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Chillingworth reappears after a prolonged absence to find that his beautiful, young wife has had a child with another man. In this lesson, we'll learn more about how this news changes Chillingworth.

The Surprise

How would you react if after being held captive for more than a year, you escaped to find your spouse had a child in your absence? In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne's husband Roger Chillingworth returns from captivity by Native Americans just in time to see his wife being punished for adultery by being publicly shamed on a scaffold. Let's learn more about the character of Chillingworth.

The Secret

After her public humiliation, the jailer is unable to calm Hester and calls for a doctor, who happens to be Chillingworth. When he arrives, he says, ''Trust me, good jailer, you shall briefly have peace in your house; and, I promise you, Mistress Prynne shall hereafter be more amenable to just authority than you may have found her heretofore.''

Chillingworth demands to know who is the father of Hester's illegitimate child, Pearl. After Hester refuses to give up the name, Chillingworth claims that he won't seek revenge as long as Hester doesn't tell anyone that he is her husband. ''Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him to the gripe of human law,'' Chillingworth says.

Psychological Torture

Hester keeps up her end of the bargain and doesn't tell anyone, not even her priest, Dimmesdale, who is Pearl's father. However, Chillingworth investigates and determines that Dimmesdale is the father. As his physician, Chillingworth moves in with Dimmesdale and begins to psychologically torture him with remarks such as this reference to some medicinal herbs he found.

''I found them growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, no other memorial of the dead man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime.''

Consumed by guilt, Dimmesdale begins to punish himself by starving and whipping himself. As he becomes even more ill, Dr. Chillingworth diagnoses him with ''a sickness, a sore place, if we may so call it, in your spirit hath immediately its appropriate manifestation in your bodily frame. Would you, therefore, that your physician heal the bodily evil? How may this be unless you first lay open to him the wound or trouble in your soul?'' Of course, Dimmesdale refuses to confess.

The Fiend

The narrator writes, ''In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil's office.'' When Hester confronts him, Chillingworth denies his torture. ''What evil have I done the man?''

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