In "The Scarlet Letter," why does Dimmesdale finally place himself on the scaffold ?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," Chapter XXIII

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," Dimmesdale can bear the burden of his hypocrisy of secret sin no longer; he knows that he should have stood alongside Hester when she was placed on there with their babe in her arms to encounter the "world's ignominious stare."  So, he walks to the scaffold, calling to little Pearl and Hester, who is impelled by some force to join him.  Through the crowd, old Roger Chillingworth breaks toward the Reverend Dimmesdale "to snatch back his victim from what he sought to do."

But Dimmesdale escapes the advocate of the devil, Chillingworth.  He tells Chillingworth, "With God's help, I shall escape thee now."  Now on the scaffold, Dimmesdale confesses his sin of seven years ago.  As Chillingworth looks on, he tells Dimmesdale that this scaffold is the only place wherein the minister could have escaped him.  He "takes his shame" upon him and confesses his sin, revealing something on his chest.  He forgives Chillingworth, and asks Pearl for a kiss, seemingly breaking a spell so that the child may grown to be a secure woman.  Dimmesdale thanks God for the his mercy, the burning pain upon his chest, and the oppotunity to "die this death in ignominy"--all of which have helped to save the soul of the sacred Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.  Adulterer and hypocrite, Dimmesdale stand where he should, alongside Hester and his daughter Pearl; it is a place he should have been seven years ago.

This is the third scaffold scene and the only one in which all four of the main characters come together; this scene is the climax of Hawthorne's novel, a scene that plays out the lesson of "The Scarlet Letter": 

Be true!  Be true!  Be true!  Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!

Indeed, the truth has set free Arthur Dimmesdale from the sin and confusion of having to have worn "one fact to himself, and another to the multitude."

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question