Hawthorne's narrative moves forward with his character development, his mastery of psychological realism, and his development of symbolism and imagery.
Roger Chillingworth comes to live with Dimmesdale and his metamorphosis into a devilish figure begins, and Pearl calls him the "Black Man." Alone with the minister, Chillingworth asks him why someone would keep his "secret sins" until he dies, and Dimmesdale rationalizes that the sinner can yet do good deeds and help mankind.
Probing further the "mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips," Chillingworth finally discovers the reason the minister always touches his chest. Later, peering inside the shirt of the sleeping Dimmesdale, the physician makes a wondrous discovery that explains the "strange sympathy betwixt soul and body!" of the minister.
Coming in the middle of the novel, this significant chapter acts as the center of Hawthorne's theme of secret sin and denial, symbolism, psychological realism, and superior character development of Arthur Dimmesdale. In this chapter, the minister secretly mounts the scaffold in the night, expressing in his desperate scream and impulsive urge to speak to Mr. Wilson his subconscious desire to confess. However, much like the two denials of Christ that Peter the apostle made, the minister refuses Pearl's request that he stand with them, the second time he has denied his connection to Hester and little Pearl despite the "tumultuous rush of new life" which he feels when standing on the scaffold holding the hands of his lover and love-child.
Abounding in symbolism, this chapter employs the scaffold, the variation on the scarlet letter as A's are seen in the night sky, and meteoric light. In addition, the three observers of the scaffold scene, Reverend Mr. Wilson, the Sexton, and Roger Chillingworth represent Church, State, and the Realm of Evil.
These chapters provide readers with the history of Hester and Dimmesdale during the seven years of Pearl's life. New views have formed about Hester; her scarlet letter, a mere symbol, takes on new meaning for the community as it is interpreted as meaning "Able," for instance, now giving its wearer protection and signifying her calling. Nevertheless, Hawthorne writes that the letter "has not done its office" because Hester experiences "a fearful doubt" and wonder if she and Pearl would not be better off dead. Certainly, as Hawthorne further writes,
The scarlet letter had not done its office.
Having vowed to talk with the physician because of the deterioration that she observes in her beloved minister, Hester is equally shocked at the transformation of Chillingworth. In his conversation with Hester, the physician becomes introspective and admits to Hester,
"A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment."
Perceiving himself as a fiend, Chillingworth laments his deterioration to Hester, whom he blames for his transformation. Chillingworth tells her "There is no path to guide us out of this "dismal maze" of fate. But Hester begs him to purge himself and let retribution to "the Power that claims it." Still, Chillingworth waves her off, saying that with her act of adultery, she has planted "the germ of evil" that for him has become a necessity.
In the first section of this chapter, Hester's inner feelings are revealed, and in the second, there is another variation of the A's symbolism.