The Struggle Within
The Scarlet Letter offers extraordinary insight into the norms and behavior of 17th century puritan society. The basic characteristics and problems of its main characters, however, are familiar to readers in the present (Encarta 98). In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne develops Reverend Dimmesdale's internal struggle through his guilt, his indecision regarding confession, and his final decision to confess.
At the beginning of the novel, the Reverend Dimmesdale has committed adultery with Hester Prynne, and he is constantly troubled by inescapable guilt. Dimmesdale knows he is a hypocrite and he hates himself for it. He tries many ways to pay penance, but nothing seems to relieve him of this terrible guilt. He tries fasting and he tries whipping himself, but nothing can rid him of his guilt. This guilt causes Dimmesdale to become physically ill. He constantly is holding his hand over his heart. This is because Hester Prynne is forced to wear the scarlet letter A on her breast. He feels connected to her because she was his partner in sin, so he holds his hand over his heart to hide his A, or guilt. At the end of the novel when he does confess, he shows his chest, and reveals his own A. Many people thought that this was caused by guilt.
The Reverend Dimmesdale wants to confess, but he is always too cowardly to face the consequences of confession. In the first scaffold scene, Dimmesdale tries to confess, but is unable to do it. In the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale's purpose is to stand on the scaffold until morning so everyone will see him. He is unable to stop thinking about what might happen to him if he is seen. While standing on the scaffold, in this vain show of expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart
. Without any power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud; an outcry that went...
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