What plea of Hester’s arouses sympathy and admiration in Chillingsworth? (chapter 14)
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
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In chapter 14, the big plea of Hester's to Chillingsworth is that he help pardon the man with whom she concieved sin. Her encouragement is to help Chillingworth let go of the revenge to which he has so tightly hung. He'll have nothing of it. However, there is a more specific request she makes when she says,
Do with him as thou wilt!
Essentially, she gets so mad that she changes her mind! She figures he should go ahead and kill her former lover.
This arouses his sympathy and admiration in these words:
"Woman, I could wellnigh pity thee!" said Roger Chillingworth, unable to restrain a thrill of admiration too; for there was a quality almost majestic in the despair which she expressed.
It is almost as if Chillingworth finally broke her. She wouldn't remove the Scarlet Letter even if the magistrates let her. But this great giving-up over the man to whom she gave such commitment over the years excites Chillingworth. It is as if he wanted to see her fail over this and by completely (out of sarcasm or anger) asking for the opposite of what she really wanted demonstrated such a desparation that Chillingworth was moved.
As Hester Prynne speaks in confidence to her former husband in Chapter XIV of The Scarlet Letter, Roger Chillingworth asks her,
"And now what wouldst thou with me touching this man?"
"I must reveal the secret," answered Hester firmly. "He must discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result I know not. But this long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid. So far as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair fame and his earthly state, and perchance his life, he is in my hands....nor do I perceive such advantage in his living any longer a life of ghastly emptiness, that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy. Do with him as thou wilt! There is no good for him,--no good for me,--no good for thee! There is no good for little Pearl! There is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze."
This response of Hester expresses her sense of looming fate upon her and Arthur Dimmesdale. She feels since she and the minister and Pearl and Chillingworth, are doomed by fate, Dimmesdale's sin may as well be exposed and Chillingworth may as well do as he wishes to the minister, for thy are fated, there "is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze."
Hearing the plea of Hester, Roger Chillingworth is
unable to restrain a thrill of admiration, too, for there was a quality almost majestic in the despair which she expressed.
"...I pity thee, for the good that has been wasted in thy nature."
Hester further pleads with him to
"...Forgive, and leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it!....There might be good for theee, and thee alone, since thou hast been deeply wrong and hast it at thy will to pardon.....Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?"
But, Chillingworth contradicts her, contending that he has no power to forgive Dimmesdale:
"My old faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and explains all that we do, and all we suffer....It is our fate."
This chapter closes on the dismal grey note of Puritanism's--Chillingworth's "old faith"--condemnation of the sinner, its sealing of the sinner's fate. For, it does not good to pardon, or to reveal one's sin; the sinner is yet condemned. This is why Hester says that it serves no purpose the scarlet letter removed, it does not good for her to ask Chillingworth--"do as thou wilt"--since hers and Dimmesdale's fates are sealed. At the same time, Hawthorne suggests his theme with Hester's idea of Dimmesdale's revealing his sin. Hawthorne gives this thought succinct words in the Conclusion:
"Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait wherby the worst may be inferred!"
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