Question below on "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne:  "Madman, hold! What is your purpose?... Wave back that woman! Cast off this child! All shall be well! Do not blacken your fame, and...

Question below on "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne:


"Madman, hold! What is your purpose?... Wave back that woman! Cast off this child! All shall be well! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishonor! I can yet save you! Would you bring infamy on your sacred profession?"

Who said this to whom and what does it mean?

Asked on by berber25b

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enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

It's important to understand Chillingworth's motivation throughout the novel.  It is not to help Dimmesdale; it is to exact revenge upon him for his carnal acts with his wife Hester.  Hawthorne describes him in later chapters as becoming more and more interested in the minister's "case;"  His sole purpose eventually becomes an all consuming act of revenge.  The cited lines show that he still is attempting to control Dimmesdale and keep up his revenge upon him, by threatening him with dishonor, but Dimmesdale gathers enough strength to come clean.  During this scene, when he finally admits to bedding Hester and fathering Pearl, he addresses Chillingworth and states that "thou also hast deeply sinned!"  It is at the minister's revelation that he not only becomes empowered to break from Chillingworth but sees what evil influence he's exerted upon him, and is able to admit to his acts and face his fear of losing his position in the community.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter XXIII of "The Scarlet Letter," the climax of the novel occurs as Dimmesdale, spent from his inspiring sermon, "with the foreboding look of untimely death upon him," rejects the proferred arm of the Reverend Mr. Wilson. Even though the minister is, at this moment,

on the very proudest eminence of superiority, to which the gifts of intellect, rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation of whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergy man in New England's earliest days, when the professional character was of itself as a lofty pedestal...

Dimmesdale walks over to Hester "with the scarlet letter still burning on her breast" and Pearl, who are standing by the scaffold; the minister stretches forth his arms:

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was somehting at once tender and strangely triumphant in it.  The child,...flew to him, and clasped her arms about his knees.  Hester Prynne...likewise drew near, but paused before she reached him.

  It is at this point that Roger Chillingworth intervenes with an "dark, disturbed, and evil" look.  He

rose up out of some nether region,--to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do!

Then, the passage cited above in the question is spoken by Chillingworth, for he realizes that Dimmesdale will escape him on the only place that he can:  the scaffold.  (This is why the minister has the triumphant look upon his face.)  Like Jesus, who rebukes Satan when he offers Jesus all below him as a kingdom, Dimmesdale rejects the old physician,

'Ha tempter! Methinks thou art too late!....With God's help, I shall escape thee now!'

Asking Hester to join him on the scaffold, he confesses his sin, tearing open his vestment to reveal triumphantly something on his chest.  Then, he sinks upon the scaffold, and Chillingworth kneels beside him, exclaiming, "Thou hast escaped me!"

The third and final scaffold scene brings all the main characters together to the place of punishment and atonement where each character is revealed as what he or she is.  Pearl becomes a real character, who kisses her father.  Hester, returning to her original place of humiliation; Dimmesdale finally stands as her partner in adultery and confesses his hypocrisy.  This truth does, indeed, set him free, for it frees him from the most evil of all, Chillingworth, whose sin is the blackest of all as he would violate "the sanctity of the human heart" by torturing Arthur Dimmesdale.  Finally, all characters are "true."  This is Hawthorne's exhortation in the conclusion of his narrative:  "Be true! Be true!"

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This quote is from Chapter 23.  It is spoken by Roger Chillingworth.  When he says this, he is talking to Dimmesdale.

In this chapter, Dimmesdale has finally decided he can not take it anymore.  He is tired of having to hide the fact that he loves Hester and that Pearl is their child.

So he calls Hester and Pearl toward him so he can tell the truth.  At that point, Chillingworth says the lines you cite.  He is telling Dimmesdale not to admit what he's done because it would make him (Dimmesdale) look bad -- it would make him lose his good name and it would make all ministers look bad.

mkcapen1's profile pic

mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The Reverend Dimmsdale is ill and he decides he can no longer bear his secret:The secret that Hester Pyrne has so long held despite her own punishment of having to wear the scarlet letter.  There is a festival and Dimmsdale climbs to the scaffold while the music is playing.  He calls to Hester and Pearl.  Hester draws towards Dimmsdale.

Roger Chillingsworth, Hester’s husband, rushes forward and tries to stop Dimmsdale because he sees something is not right with him. He calls out to him:

"Madman, hold! What is your purpose?... Wave back that woman! Cast off this child! All shall be well! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishonor! I can yet save you! Would you bring infamy on your sacred profession? "(212) Chapter 23

Dimmsdale continues his intent and reveals his sin to the crowd before he dies.

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