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In chapter 23 of The Scarlet Letter Dimmesdale's death is described with a paradox, a...

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In chapter 23 of The Scarlet Letter Dimmesdale's death is described with a paradox, a seeming contradiction that reveals a truth.  Dimmesdale thanks God for "bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy" (267).  What truth is revealed by the seeming contradiction in the phrase "triumphant ignominy?"

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The great paradox of Dimmesdale's death is found in the way in which he interprets what his life has been, and what his death will be now that it is so near.

Dimmesdale thinks that God has shown him mercy, as well as Hester, due to the sin that they both committed. In Dimmesdale's eyes, what he and Hester did was renouncing their commitment to God's law. As we know, Hester certainly does not see it that way; to her, what occurred was a true manifestation of love.

Nevertheless Dimmesdale insists that he has been shown mercy by God by afflicting him with pain, guilt, agony, and misery as a result of what he did. The paradox is that he thinks that the mercy of God is shown in punishment and sadness, rather than grace and forgiveness. This is a belief that comes directly from Calvinism and the idea that we are all "sinners in the hands of an angry god" who has pre-selected those who go to heaven and those who do not.

He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people!

Dimmesdale is voicing the belief of his church which is basically that God is a wrathful and vengeful God that has punished Dimmesdale enough to forgive him in lieu of his suffering. Hence, when he says that God has been kind to him by, among these other things, allowing him to die disgraced in front of the people who followed him blindly once, he is twisting around the situation. He is actually doing the right thing by coming clean with his people as well as Hester. However, he gave his ultimate sacrifice a twist that clearly reflects the overall confusion about life, religion, and righteousness that has always existed in the character of Dimmesdale.


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