What does Hawthorne indicate about conformity and individual identity through the character of Dimmsdale? 

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The character of Arthur Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is a young, very charismatic and allegedly influential member of the settlement who also serves as one of its most influential religious leaders.

After he has an affair with Hester Prynne, and she becomes pregnant as a result, he has to confront the sin that he has committed on a daily basis: Not only does he have confirmation of his weaknesses in the form of Hester and Pearl, but he also lives through the nightmare of guilt that comes from not admitting what he does.

This tells a lot about individual identity: He obviously has a need to be recognized as an elder, as a leader, and as a good person. He may feel guilt, but the fact remains that he allows life to go on as usual with Hester as a pariah. This shows how he feels that this is somehow a natural result of things. Hawthorne is clearly showing us the double edge sword that morality is: It only exists when it is convenient for some for it to exist. Dimmesdale is a religious fanatic living a double life, like half of the people in the settlement.

When it comes to conformity, Dimmesdale accepts whatever happens in his life as long as he can control it. He carves the letter A on his chest to control the fates against him, basically. In other words, if he punishes himself first then God will not come after him for what he has does to Hester. Moreover, he goes as far as denying Hester one last chance to connect when, in his last dying hours, he tells her that they will not even meet again in heaven. Dimmesdale is a continuously denying man: He denies his reality, and he denies Hester dignity, respect, and freedom. He conforms to the expectations of a society of hypocrites of which he is its most beloved leader.

It really makes us wonder whether Hawthorne literally puts these facts together in one man- a religious leader, to say the least- as a way to condemn the unfairness and callousness of Christian hypocrisy.

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