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In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, what happens the next morning (on the Sabbath) after...

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rosey-girl | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:57 PM via web

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In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, what happens the next morning (on the Sabbath) after Dimmesdale meets Hester and Pearl at the scaffold?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 1, 2012 at 12:07 AM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter Twelve of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, several things happen the morning after Governor Winthrop's death—the morning after Dimmesdale meets Hester and Pearl by chance at the scaffold.

The first occurrence is that Dimmesdale delivers a truly remarkable and effective Sunday sermon that touches the hearts and minds of many members of his congregation:

Souls, it is said, more souls than one, were brought to the truth by the efficacy of that sermon...

Dimmesdale, more than ever, is seen as a true and dedicated servant of God. None would suspect that he is the man guilty of leading Hester to sin by having an adulterous affair with her. (For though he is not married, biblically, he is guilty of adultery in causing Hester to commit adultery.) Because everyone's faith in Dimmesdale is so great, the second event on the Sabbath sheds no guilt on the minister.

...as he came down the pulpit-steps, the grey-bearded sexton met him, holding up a black glove, which the minister recognised as his own.

Dimmesdale has delivered his sermon in the church. Then the caretaker finds his glove on the scaffold. Dimmesdale knows it is his and how it came to be on the scaffold. The sexton explains how, in his opinion, the glove came to be there, "on the scaffold, where evil-doers are set up to public shame." (Unless he was an "evildoer," there would be no reason for Dimmesdale to be on the scaffold. The reader knows that he was on the scaffold, and he deserved to be there based on the laws of the community.)

The sexton deems Dimmesdale blameless, assigning the guilt to Satan:

Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it...And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence must needs handle him without gloves, henceforward...

The reader is well aware of how the glove came to be on the scaffold. It is also obvious that Dimmesdale's sin is as great as Hester's, but he also commits the sin of hypocrisy: for he pretends to be blameless but carries the same guilt as Hester. We can infer that he carries even more shame than Hester. Hester wears her "A" and bears up under the criticism of her community. She raises her daughter in a way that the church would approve of, and spends many hours in service to those in need. Dimmesdale's secret eats away at him; he is melancholy and unwell. The reader can infer that his overwhelming guilt in his sin, as well as his failure to acknowledge his sin, is something that causes him great suffering.

Lastly, the sexton shares news with Dimmesdale of the meteor of the previous night, and that the people believe the "A" scrawled out by the fiery tail of the dying star represented "Angel," and was speaking to the good man that Governor Winthrop was—painted in the heavens to honor his passing.

 

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