The Scarlet Letter


Roger Chillingworth

While the other three main characters are multi-layered, the antagonist, Roger Chillingworth, is a one-dimensional villain. The reader never understands how Chillingworth and Hester came to be married. While the marriage is not described as a loving one, and Chillingworth’s wealth presumably played a role in the marriage, Hawthorne does not provide further information to the reader. Instead, Chillingworth is introduced as Hester’s husband in a way that makes it clear that there was something amiss in their relationship well before Hester and Dimmesdale’s affair.

What Hawthorne does reveal about Chillingworth’s character is that, prior to discovering his wife’s adultery, Chillingworth was a relatively peaceable man. Hawthorne describes him as a scholar, and Chillingworth is sufficiently educated that he is able to convince the townspeople that he is a doctor. Nothing about his background indicates a man who would be obsessed with vengeance, and this shift is an important one. By demonstrating how a gentle, peaceful doctor could be transformed into a person seeking out vengeance, Hawthorne helps demonstrate how the quest for revenge is, in and of itself, destructive. Not only can vengeance destroy the lives of those is targets, but it also destroys the person consumed by ideas of revenge.

Clearly, the name Chillingworth—chosen as an alias for his true name, which is never revealed in the novel—has symbolic meaning. The name implies coldness and distance. Those are actually not characteristics that one associates with the man, who is so consumed by emotion that he allows the need for vengeance to destroy his life. However, it does suggest a lack of empathy, which does keep him from sympathizing with Dimmesdale.

In addition, Chillingworth’s physical appearance provides clues to the reader about his personality. Chillingworth is not only an unattractive man, but a man whose physical appearance makes him seem to be an outsider. When he first appears, Chillingworth has just been released by the Native Americans...

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