How does Dimmesdale feel about his role as the much respected ministry in the community, but why doesn't he thrive amid those who admire him so much?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes,

No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.

Such is true about the Reverend Dimmesdale.  While in the forest with Hester in Chapter XX, "The Minister in a Maze," Dimmesdale tells her that it is fortunate that they will not make their departure for England for four days because he is to deliver the Election Day sermon:

'At least, they shall say of me,' thought this exemplary man, 'that I leave no public duty unperformed, nor ill performed!

Hawthorne, as narrator, adds,

Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound and acute as this poor minister's should be so miserably deceived!  We have had...worse things to tell of him; but none, pitiably weak; no evidence, at once so slight ...of a subtle disease, that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character.

Poor Dimmesdale has been a hypocrite for so long that he is now confused even about himself.  As he leaves the forest, he experiences a series of temptations toward some wild and wicked action.  Here Hawthorne demonstrates through Dimmesdale the deep subconcious effect of the minister's conscious commitment to sin.  Now, he yields himself to what he "had never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin."

Yet, while his guilt causes him to become a hypocrite and yield himself to hypocrisy, Dimmesdale sickens and would be free of the "subtle disease" that eats away at his heart and soul.

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The Scarlet Letter

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