In Chapter 9 of The Scarlet Letter, what are the strategies that Hawthorne uses to characterize Chillingworth?Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While many authors employ dialogue to develop characterization, in Chapter IX of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne makes little use of it, instead employing other methods such as

  1. physical descriptions of the character,
  2. the character's actions, 
  3. the comments and reactions of other characters, and  
  4. direct statements giving the narrator/writer's opinion of the character.

The first three methods are indirect methods of characterization, and the fourth method is direct characterization. 

Certainly,in direct characterization (4), Hawthorne creates a sharp contrast of Roger Chillingworth with both Hester and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.  For, while Hester's ignominy is public and her sin overt, Chillingworth hides his connection to Hester lest he, too, be on "a pedestal of shame."  Instead of exposing himself, then, Chillingworth embarks upon a darker purpose.  As narrator, Hawthorne notes that men of science like Chillingworth often

lost the spiritual view of existence amid the intricacies of that wondrous mechanism, which seemed to involve art enough to comprise all of life within itself.

However, the narrator adds, Chillingworth is an asset to the community who has not had a real physician. And, outwardly, the physician exhibits an exemplary religious life.  But, as narrator, Hawthorne cautions, "a man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician." For, this physician "fancied must exist there," secrets in the minister's heart. 

Likewise, there is a mystery to the physician's sudden appearance that seems "a providential hand" to the weakening minister, the "individuals of wiser faith" think (3). The community notices how the physician attaches himself to Dimmesdale as a parishoner; and are joyous that arrangements have been made for the two men to reside together:  "It was held to be the best possible measure for the young clergyman's welfare..."

The elders, the deacons,the motherly dames, and the young and fair maidens of Mr. Dimmesdale's flock, were alike importunate that he should make trial of the physician's frankly offered skill.

At this point, there are a few words spoken by Roger Chillingworth, who ironically remarks to Dimmesdale,

"Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly."

And, then, the narrator comments (4), "In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth became the medical adviser of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. 

More physical descriptions (1) follow:

So Roger Chillingworth--the man of skill, the kind and friendly physician--strove to go deep into his paitents bosom...probing everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern....[Dimmesdale was] under the eye of his anxious and attached physician.

Later in the chapter, Hawthorne writes that (1) Roger Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable change...Now there was something ugly and evil in his face. The community feels --"a widely diffused opinion"--that the minister is either "haunted by Satan himself or (1) Satans' emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth.  This diabolical agent...."

Clearly, Hawthorne develops the character of Roger Chillingworth through narrative techniques of characterization, especially physical descriptions, the reactions of other characters, the character's speech, and direct statements giving the writer's opinion of the character.  



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The Scarlet Letter

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