How does Dimmesdale torture himself in The Scarlet Letter?

Expert Answers info

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write2,689 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

There is another instrument of torture that should be mentioned as well:  Dimmesdale's "bloody scourge."  There is quite a large section of the text that deals with Dimmesdale's scourge.  Let's begin there:

His inward trouble drove him to practices, more in accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Rome, than with the better light of the church in which he had been born and bred. In Mr. Dimmesdale's secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders; laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly, because of that bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast--not however, like them, in order to purify the body and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination,--but rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of penance. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness; sometimes with a glimmering lamp; and sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it. He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself.

A scourge, of course, is a " whip or lash, especially for the infliction of punishment or torture."  So Dimmesdale's vigils are full of a lot more than prayer and fasting.  Dimmesdale is so bothered by his guilt that he actually whips himself in order to do penance for his sin with Hester .  Dimmesdale is often called a Christ-figure.  Dimmesdale's use of the scourge is one of the first implements that connect him to Christ (although the scourge is used to purify Dimmesdale for his own sins...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 593 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Lizette Eaves eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2009

write569 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

check Approved by eNotes Editorial