How are the conflicts in the The Scarlet Letter resolved?  Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The conflicts of the characters in The Scarlet Letter are resolved, ironically, on the scaffold, a setting which foreshadowed conflict in Chapter I.  Yet, there are two scenes in which the scaffold appears after the initial scaffold scene, so interpretations of the resolutions of the characters' conflicts differ.

In Chapter XII, The Reverend Dimmesdale goes out at night and steps onto the scaffold, driven "hither by the impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere."  While he stands on this scaffold, Hester and Pearl pass by; he calls to them--"we will stand all three together!"--and has them join hands with him there.  As they do so,

there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, s if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half torpid system.  The three formed an electric chain.

Arthur Dimmesdale acknowledges the link among them and admits to his sin, resolving his conflicting emotions.  He promises Pearl that he will stand again with them at Judgment Day.  His earlier shriek demonstrates further Dimmesdale's urge to expose himself.  Chillingworth appears in this scene, as well.

However, a more complete resolution of the conflicts of the characters, especially that of Dimmesdale vs. Chillingworth, comes in the scaffold scene on Election Day in Chapter XXIII.  In this chapter, the fates of the characters are sealed.  Arthur Dimmesdale mounts the scaffold in daylight this time. Roger Chillingworth pleads with Dimmesdale not to mount the scaffold and admit his guilt because he knows if Dimmesdale does admit his sin, he will no longer have any hold upon the minister. Nevertheless, Dimmesdale confesses that he is a sinner, tears open his shirt, and reveals a letter A upon his chest; Hester and Pearl stand beside him as family, Pearl kisses her father and "a spell was broken" as she becomes more human, less sprite-like since her passion has been subdued with Dimmesdale's confession. Chillingworth, with a "blank countenance out of which the life seemed to have departed," cries, "Thou hast escaped me!"  Now, he has no purpose, and shortly thereafter, he dies.

With the acknowledgement of all the main characters' sins, the conflicts are resolved.  Hester and Pearl depart for Europe, but after some time, Hester returns to Boston and resumes wearing the scarlet letter as it has become too much her identity.  Still, it ceases to be a stigma and becomes, instead, something "to be sorrowed over."  Hester dies and is buried at a space from an old grave made after Election Day.  She is, at last, united with her love.

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