Three Scaffold Scenes - Progression of Dimmesdale

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In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays Arthur Dimmesdale as a troubled individual. In him lies the central conflict of the book. Dimmesdale's soul is torn between two opposing forces: his heart, his love for freedom and his passion for Hester Prynne, and his head, his knowledge of Puritanism and its denial of fleshly love. He has committed the sin of adultery but cannot seek divine forgiveness, believing as the Puritans did that sinners received no grace. His dilemma, his struggle to cope with sin, manifests itself in the three scaffold scenes depicted in The Scarlet Letter. These scenes form a progression through which Dimmesdale at first denies, then accepts reluctantly, and finally conquers his sin.

During Hester Prynne's three-hour ignominy, Dimmesdale openly denies his sin. Hawthorne introduces Dimmesdale as "a being who felt himself quite astray and at a loss in the pathway of human existence" (64). The author made it obvious that a grim secret lies hidden in the depths of Dimmesdale's soul. This secret, however, does not reveal itself immediately, since Dimmesdale hides it from the closely watching town. In addition, he magnifies his own denial of his sin when he charges Hester to "speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer"(65). By deliberately speaking to Hester as if the sinner were not himself, the pastor makes sure that nobody suspects him. One may also interpret Dimmesdale's speech as a hint to Hester not to name him. He feels he must "add hypocrisy to sin" in order to keep his standing in the town. He thinks that if the town finds out about his sin, they will never forgive him, much like his belief system tells him that God will never forgive him. So great is his relief when he finds that "she will not speak" that he stands in awe of the "wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart"(66). Despite an inward wish for his sin to be discovered, Dimmesdale feels better knowing that Hester will not willingly...
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