How does Dimmesdale feel about his role as the much respected pastor in the community?That is, why does he avoid the people who admire him so much? Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," that Arthur Dimmesdale is respected in the community is even more cause for his anguish.  For, he has

won it [the respect], in great part, by his sorrows.  His intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life.

While there are other ministers who have spent years acquiring "abstruse lore, connected with the divine profession," the Reverend Dimmesdale has lived with sin and sorrow, and is, thus, more "profoundly versed."  There are others who are better versed with

the better world, into which their purity of life had almost introduced these holy personages...only lacking the gift that descended the chosen disciples at Pentecost,

yet they all dwell in the "upper heights" and cannot touch the people as Dimmesdale does so well.  It is his burden of sin that gives him "sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind."  But, because the people perceive Dimmesdale as a "miracle of holiness," he is tortured by his guilt since he has always been a lover of truth, not a hypocrite.  He yearns to confess, but when he hints at his sin, the congregation merely believes that he humbles himself for their sakes:

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdate had gone into the pulpit....had actually spoken!  He had told his hearer that he was altogether vile,...the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity...They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more.  They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words.

Calling Dimmesdale "the godly youth" and "the saint on earth," the minister knows that if he does confess his great sin, the people will refuse to believe him:  "He had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood."  And, because he loathes lies, the Reverend comes to loathe his own "miserable self."

The minister cannot face these people without feeling his shame.  So, he begins self-flagellation and fasting in order to atone for his sins.  He keeps vigils in his penance.  Since "to the untrue man, the whole universe is false," he shrinks from people and life.  The only truth is "the anguish in his inmost soul."

With this tremendous conflict of Arthur Dimmesdale, a conflict much more torturous than that of Hester, author Nathaniel Hawthorne expresses his invective against Puritanism, a religion that would deny the intrinsic nature of man and the redemptive power of forgiveness for sin, a religion that forces individuals into hypocrisy if they transgress.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

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