How do the townspeople feel about Chillingworth in Chapter 9 of The Scarlet Letter?
The townspeople’s opinions about Chillingworth change greatly within Chapter 9 of The Scarlet Letter. First, all of the townspeople seem to be thrilled with Chillingworth’s appearance because they know that he is known as a great doctor. “He was now know to be a man of skill; . . . like one acquainted with hidden virtues to common eyes” (120). Further, the townspeople’s feelings for their pastor (Dimmesdale) supersede their own needs as they begin to see God’s “Providence” in sending the physician to their ailing pastor’s side. “Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, . . . were inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth’s so opportune arrival” in order for him to attend to their ailing clergyman, Dimmesdale (120). It isn’t long before Chillingworth arranges to live in Dimmesdale’s very home “so that every ebb and flow of the minister’s life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and attached physician” (123). “There was much joy throughout the town when this greatly desirable object was attained” (123).
However, “another portion of the community” soon began to take a different view because they “affirmed that Roger Chillingworth’s aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face which they had not previously noticed” (125-126). Many said that Dimmesdale “was haunted either by Satan, himself, or Satan’s emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth.” Therefore, by the end of the chapter, Chillingworth has gone from angel to devil in the eyes of the townspeople.
Early on, the townspeople look upon Roger Chillingworth as "a brilliant acquisition": for a long time, there was really no doctor to speak of and the health of those residents of Boston was in the hands of "an aged deacon and apothecary" who had no education in the medical arts to speak of. Furthermore, they view the "learned stranger" as one who conducts himself and behaves as one who possesses an exemplary religious life, and his choice of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale seems to confirm this. Ultimately, they view his arrival in the town as incredibly "opportune" and fortunate.
Slowly, however, over time, the opinion of the town begins to change: "another portion of the community had latterly begun to take his own view of the relation betwixt Mr. Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician." The people have no good reason for their negative feelings; they can point to no proof to support their concerns. However, soon, many begin to see that his
aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he has dwelt in town [...]. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight, the oftener they looked upon him.
The community comes to believe that his laboratory fires have actually come from hell and they make his face dark and smudged with their soot. In other words, people begin to turn on Chillingworth, believing that he is not the good man they once thought, or that he once was.