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Sarah Winter

AOHS-American Literature
10/22/09

Arthur Dimmesdale should be pitied and saved because he is only

human. His actions were simply a display of a common human weakness.

Even though the morals and values of the 17th century hold adultery as one

of the worst possible sins you could commit, the way he dealt with the

resulting emotions and the self inflicted punishment earn him pity. He suffers

more than anyone else in the book. Hester's sin is out in the open and she

has made her peace with it. It was much more difficult, and more tormenting

for Dimmesdale to have kept it secret. He punishes himself far more than

anyone else ever could. Despite Dimmesdale’s display of weakness,

Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale has earned my pity and I think others should

sympathize with him too.

Dimmesdale is first portrayed as a nervous and sensitive individual.

The best description of the ordained Puritan minister can be found in chapter

III, The Recognition, in which Hawthorne states, “…Reverend Mr.

Dimmesdale; a young clergyman, who had come from one of the great

English universities, bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forest-

land. His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of

high eminence in his profession. He was a person of very striking aspect,

with a white, lofty, and impending brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and

a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be

tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self-


restraint.” (Hawthorne 61.) It would appear that Dimmesdale is the

epitome of human weakness and sorrow. Obviously he is a sensitive man

and it is apparent in The Scarlet Letter that his devotion to God and

passion for his religion make him effective in the pulpit.

Dimmesdale's one-paragraph speech in The Recognition to Hester

reveals more about his character than any description of his physical

body and nervous habits that Hawthorne provides (Hawthorne 62.)

Knowing that he was Hester's sexual partner and is Pearl's father, the

speech that Dimmesdale gives is filled with double meanings. On one

level, he is giving a public scolding of Hester for not naming her lover. On

another level, however, he makes a personal plea to her to name him as

her lover and Pearl's father because he is too morally weak to do so

himself. The speech is ironic because what is initially intended to be a

speech about Hester becomes more a commentary about his own sinful

behavior. The speech invokes a strong feeling of sympathy in the crowd,

sympathy that should belong to Dimmesdale.

Dimmesdale has the principal conflict in the novel, and his agony

and suffering are the direct result of his inability to reveal his sin. While

the power of self restraint seems to give Dimmesdale great strength, his self

restraint is also his utmost weakness. His body refuses to do what his heart

says is right. In his one-paragraph speech (Hawthorne 63,) Dimmesdale

urges Hester to reveal the truth, but when she refuses he doesn’t have the

willpower to confess himself. Therefore, his sin blossoms into one even
larger than hers. Hester’s sin is exposed, so the only thing it can do is

gradually fade away, as new scandals present themselves to the community.

Dimmesdale, on the other hand, continues to lie to himself and his followers

by keeping his secret hidden and concealed. The more he prolongs the

unveiling of his sin, the larger it grows. Hawthorne is showing us just how

strong Dimmesdale actually is. By allowing Dimmesdale to hide his sin and

bear the weight of it, Hawthorne creates an interesting and tremendously

strong character.

While some may argue that Arthur Dimmesdale should be scorned and

condemned for his weakness as a man, I think he has already scorned and

condemned himself enough. He punishes himself far more than anyone else

ever could, eventually turning to extreme instances of this such as self

flagellation. Some say that only by being an honest, forthright person can

one be truly human, but I disagree. I think it is human nature to lie and

usually people lie to protect somebody’s best interests. While this doesn’t

necessarily justify lying, it certainly explains it. In spite of his horrible sin,

Dimmesdale is still a good man. He is well respected for good reasons; he is

well educated, passionate about his career, and has a good morals. His

conscious is active, which proves that he has a good heart. When

Dimmesdale had sexual relations with Hester, they were both under the

impression that Hester’s husband, Chillingworth, was lost at sea. In the 17th

century it was undoubtedly a sin to have relations with another man after

someone’s spouse disappeared or died, but today that seems quite


unreasonable and unfair. In fact, this was established in the Declaration of

Independence- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are three of the

unalienable rights of man. Dimmesdale was simply practicing one of what

would become one of the unalienable rights of man. Arthur Dimmesdale is a

passionate person who was forced to live in a passionless society. Clearly, he

should be pitied and saved, for he has already punished himself enough.