In "The Scarlet Letter", how does Dimmesdale feel about his role as the much-respected minister in the community?

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gmvaughan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because Dimmesdale is an esteemed minister, yet also a sinner according to Puritan theology, he struggles with guilt stemming from his hypocrisy, and he tortures himself as a result of it.  The letter on his breast, the scourge he takes to his own back and his relentless fasting are evidence of his self-torture. It seems that he wants to be discovered since he is clearly not strong enough to come forward publically on his own.  The tapestry depicting the biblical story of David and Bathsheba hanging on the wall of his study,the late night trip to the scaffold and his dropped glove are all overt attempts to be discovered; however, the people of Boston are blind to the prospect of their minister being a party to adultery.  His physical, spiritual and moral weakness must only be exacerbated by the fact that, despite his overt attempts at penance and discovery, no one even remotely connects him with Hester's sin.  Even worse, they only respect him more the sicker he becomes. He knows he has the power to do good as a minister, but he feels he cannot achieve the good for his people without the public confession and consequences for his sin that are required by his faith.  Worse than anything, according to Puritan doctrine of predestination, he is truly "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't." 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Scarlet Letter" Hawthorne writes, "No man, for a considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." Dimmesdale confesses to Hester that the judgment of God is on him; he is greatly troubled by his guilt for his sin and by the fact that the community misinterprets his intense emotion as sympathy for sinners in the congregation. Clearly, he feels like a hypocrite, and it is this feeling that eats at his soul, sickening his body, and later causing his death. In the secret of the night, when Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold, confessing his sin to only the night, hoping for some expiation and healing, he fails as he feels only more self-condemnation for his cowardice. His scream into the night suggests his great psychological torture.

Dimmesdale is left with his guilt.

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The Scarlet Letter

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