The Scarlet Letter


Arthur Dimmesdale

Arthur Dimmesdale was Hester’s lover and the father of her daughter, Pearl. He is also a minister for the community. Like Hester, Dimmesdale comes from England. He attended Oxford, where he was a respected scholar. He is considered a new type of minister. Rather than focusing on the fire-and-brimstone aspect of the Puritan religion, he is considered much more compassionate. This compassion is one reason that Hester turned to him for solace. It also helps prevent any suspicion when he intervenes on behalf of Hester and Pearl in various community matters.

When the novel opens, Dimmesdale is questioning Hester about the paternity of her child. This immediately establishes Dimmesdale as a representative of the misogynist Puritan society. That fact that he is the father of Pearl’s child does not make him less of a representative of this society; instead, it reinforces the fact that women were subjected to a double standard to which men were not expected to comply. Dimmesdale avoided the public shame that Hester experienced and, while he seemed grateful that Hester did not expose his identity, he did not feel compelled to share her shame, or, more importantly, provide Pearl with a father.

That is not to say that Dimmesdale felt no remorse or guilt about what he had done. On the contrary, Dimmesdale was wracked with guilt. As the novel progressed and his reputation in the community grew, Dimmesdale’s health became increasingly worse. He linked his decline in health to the fact that he was keeping his sin a secret. However, while he is not willing to confess what sin he has committed, he repeatedly tells his congregation that he is a sinner. The congregation does not really believe him, so that he is not even able to find the symbolic absolution that he would have if they acknowledged that he was a sinner.

Toward the end of the novel, Dimmesdale meets Hester in the woods. His health has declined to a dangerous position at this point. Though there is no longer a romantic relationship between the two of them, his condition moves Hester to...

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