How does The Scarlet Letter have an ending as Fay Weldon describes below?Fays observation on happy endings: "The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from readers are...

How does The Scarlet Letter have an ending as Fay Weldon describes below?

Fays observation on happy endings: "The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral developement. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events--a marriage or a last-minute rescue from death--but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Truly, the tragic figure of Arthur Dimmesdale of The Scarlet Letter achieves a final truthful assertion of himself, "a spiritual reassessment" as Weldon terms it.  In this reassessment on the scaffold in Chapter XXIII, Dimmesdale does, indeed, achieve a "moral reconciliation" with himself and his God at the hour of his death.

Inhibited by his fear of public exposure, and perhaps a dread that his sin would bring even greater condemnation upon Hester, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale rationalizes the concealment of his sin as preventing Hester less pain as well as allowing him to yet perform good deeds when no good would come of his confession.  Nevertheless, he continues to be tortured by his terrible guilt:

The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul.

Dimmesdale is so tortured by his secret sin that he punishes himself physically and goes one sleepless night to stand upon the scaffold. However, when Hester and Pearl pass and he calls out to them to ascend the scaffold that they all three may be together, little Pearl, the incarnation of their sin, asks if he willstand with them the next day at noon; Dimmesdale's fear of public exposure and condemnation overpowers his conscience and he replies no. It is after this that Hester vows to save him and meets Dimmesdale in the forest in order to convince him to return with her to England.

After his meeting with Hester in the woods, the minister is so inspired by his saintly intentions that he composes an extremely enlightened and moving sermon, one that evokes much pathos from his congregation as there is a subtle tragic undertone to his words.  While he has the intention of leaving the colony with Hester, his strength begins to leave him, and Dimmesdale knows that he is dying. Having been moved earlier by his conversation with the fiendish Roger Chillingworth who returned one day with a hideous black plant that the physician pulled from a grave, describing this herb as having grown from the man's heart typifying," may be, some hideous secret...which had done better to confess during his lifetime," the minister imagines the horror of such a plant coming forth from his grave, signifying his black sin; therefore, he decides that it is, indeed, better to confess while alive.

In Chapter XXIII, then, Dimmesdale"tremulously, but decidedly" mounts the scaffold where stands Hester and Pearl, joins his family,and repels the urgings of Chillingworth to come away.

"Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art too late!” answered the minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, but firmly. “Thy power is not what it was! With God's help, I shall escape thee now!”

As he thanks God for the "burning torture" he has borne upon his chest and the agonies suffered from the "terrible old man" because without this fiend, he would have been "lost forever" in his secret sin, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale dies.  But, having told the truth--"Be true! Be true!" the narrator exhorts all who read this tale--Dimmesdale has achieved, as Weldon states,  his own "moral reconciliation" and no hideous herb will grow from his grave.  Furthermore, while the Puritan mind may find no redemption for his sins, the modern Christian may believe in this saving of Dimmesdale's immortal soul. At any rate, there is for Dimmesdale a veritable rescue from the tortures of secret sin and a "moral reconciliation"--a "happy ending."

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The Scarlet Letter

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