In The Scarlet Letter, why does Chillingworth ask Hester to keep his identity a secret?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Roger Chillingworth requests that Hester keep his identity a secret because he has ulterior motives for staying in the community.

The first reason that he gives Hester is that he does not wish to be confronted with the dishonor of being the husband of a wife who has been unfaithful. And, he adds, "It may be for other reasons." At any rate, he tells his wife that it is his purpose to remain unknown until he dies, and he makes her swear that she will keep secret the fact that they are married. He even threatens her:

"Recognize me not by word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst thou fail me in this, beware!" (Ch. IV)

Further, Roger Chillingworth tells Hester that although he will pitch a tent on the outskirts of the community, she and what is hers still belong to him. "My home is where thou art and where he is." 

With these words, Hester becomes disconcerted, and she asks him why he smiles at her in such a sinister manner: 

"Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?"

Her husband replies with a sinister smile, "Not thy soul...No, not thine!"

Here, then, Chillingworth suggests his second reason for Hester's silence: He holds the evil intention of seeking some sort of retribution upon Hester's lover, and in order to do this successfully, his identity must remain unknown.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Simply put, he intends to worm his way into Arthur Dimmesdale's life and ruin it for taking Hester away from him.  Chillingworth is a great reader of people.  By careful observation, he is able to discern who the father of Hester's child is, and by cunning acting, he ends up living with Dimmesdale and working on him both through his internal medicines and his mental tortures.  It is his intention to kill Arthur Dimmesdale. 

This would be difficult to do if suddenly Hester's long-lost husband showed up out of the blue.  He does not want anyone to know who he is to Hester so that he may observe without scrutiny or suspicions from those in the community. 

Check out the link below for more information.  Good Luck!

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The Scarlet Letter

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