In The Scarlet Letter, what methods does Hawthorne use to gradually reveal Hester's lover. Which method does Chillingworth catch on to?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first thing Hawthorne does is introduce us to the character of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale in chapter III, "The Recognition", with a description that can be juxtaposed to that of Hester's in terms of the similarities between the two. This does not to mean that they looked alike. What it means is that Hawthorne shows three things about both characters that are unique and sort of brings them together, inevitably. 

  • Like Hester, Hawthorne describes Dimmesdale as someone of a more sophisticated and elevated nature compared to his peers.
  • Like Hester, Dimmesdale is English 
  • Like Hester, Dimmesdale has a "striking aspect"

In not so many words, here are two very unique people facing one another on the scaffold, both with very telling things in common. It is also pointed out that, like Hester, Dimmesdale is young, but that he also possessed "eloquence," "charisma," and an overall "charm" that distinguished him from other men. A charisma that could have charmed Hester, perhaps? 

Then, Hawthorne waxes, from the gifts of the man, to the enigma that surrounds his "melancholy eyes" and his "low brow." All of this points out that this formerly-charming, eloquent, and sophisticated man has something that is eating him up inside and that has changed him for the worst. 

Using words that subtlety hint at guilt, Hawthorne describes how Dimmesdale refers to Hester publicly in view that, as her pastor, he must request that she gives the name of the man who impregnated her:

... there was an air about this young minister—an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look—as of a being who felt himself quite astray, and at a loss in the pathway of human existence, and could only be at ease in some seclusion of his own. 

Then there are Dimmesdale's ongoing crazy symptoms. There is an issue with Dimmesdale's holding his hand over his heart, the deteriorating condition of his body, and the fact that he will not discuss anything with Chillingworth (his physician) concerning how bothered he is. These facts lead the reader to realize (as did Chillingworth) that Dimmesdale is hiding something huge. 

Chillingworth uses this emotional breakdown to pry upon the mind of the priest. Moreover, Chillingworth already had a suspicion that this "charming" man, whom the crowds referred to as "the young divine,"  had more feral than saintly in him.

Chillingworth wondered what could possibly cause the blind following that Dimmesdale had in the village. Then again, remember that Chillingworth was (like Hester) NOT originally from Boston, nor entirely given to the Puritan tradition. He was a scholar, Hester was a rebel inside, and neither of them cared much about the actual religious aspect of the village. It is no surprise that they saw Dimmesdale way differently than the villagers did. 

Finally, Chillingworth is able to sneak upon Arthur while he slept, and finally sees that the latter had carved a letter "A" on his chest out of the intense guilt that he felt over Hester's situation--which he caused. This is is how Chillingworth finally finds out--and starts jumping up and down quite awkwardly too, as Hawthorne describes it. 

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The Scarlet Letter

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