How is Hawthorne's theme of "be true" developed through the character of Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Chillingworth does advance one of the novel's themes of integrity, he does not always stay "true" himself to the theme. Below are some examples of both sides of his characterization in regards to being true.

Affirmative: Chillingworth is honest with Hester about what he intends to do to Dimmesdale (or the father of Pearl before he knows his identity).  One could also argue that Chillingworth does not truly hide his motives from Dimmesdale.  If Dimmesdale had simply not been so self-absorbed, he would have realized far earlier in the novel what Chillingworth was doing.  Chillingworth is also honest with himself about his faults, about his lack of attractiveness to a young woman like Hester, and most importantly about the immorality of his scheme (he does not try to whitewash what he is doing).

Negative: Chillingworth forces Hester to conceal his true identity--certainly not an example of being forthright with others.  He also disregards any moral compass which would prevent him from continuing with his torture of Dimmesdale, seemingly being false to his conscience or self.

Overall, Chillingworth serves more as an example/guide to Hester for recognizing the positive effects ofbeing true to one's self.  Hester, more than any other character, positively changes because she has been true to her daughter and to the townspeople.

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The Scarlet Letter

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