By Ashlyn R. Thomas
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gripping tale, The Scarlet Letter, a revered Puritan minister suffers from cowardly guilt and hypocrisy after he commits adultery in this novel staged in the seventeenth century. Arthur Dimmesdale, who hides himself in the shame of his lover, Hester Prynne, protects his reputation among the Puritan people. The scaffold, a public symbol of disgrace, contrasts with the pastor’s silent sin of adultery. When Hester became a symbol of sin among the people and wore the scarlet letter as punishment, Dimmesdale bears a sinner’s masked mark in his heart. As a result of his concealed sin, Dimmesdale suffers from guilt and hypocrisy. Over the course of the three scaffold scenes, Dimmesdale changes from cowardly guilt and hypocrisy, to desperate guilt and hypocrisy, and finally to repentant hope. In the first scaffold scene, Dimmesdale is aware of his guilt and hypocrisy when he questions his lover, Hester Prynne, but is too cowardly to confess his sin. Questioning the adulteress from a balcony alongside the spiritual and political leaders of the Puritan colony, the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, correlates Dimmesdale’s elevated position among the Puritan colony and shows Dimmesdale’s reputation at stake. Placing pressure on the young woman, Dimmesdale pleads, “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.”1 Wordlessly relieved by her silence, Dimmesdale cowardly withheld his sin from the public. The significance
of Dimmesdale’s cowardice parallels with the shame and fear of the scaffold and the mockery it brings.
Seven years later, in the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale is desperate to confess because his guilt and hypocrisy have only increased, but he manages only a cowardly...