In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, what question does Dimmesdale ask Hester about the person he sees standing near the scaffold, and how does he say he feels about this person?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Twelve of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale mounts the scaffold in the town square, the same place Hester stood seven years before accused of adultery. For a moment he envisions himself still bound to that spot in the morning where he will be discovered by the townspeople, and he laughs. Little Pearl answers his laugh, and he sees Hester and their child walking back (as Hester explains), from Governor Winthrop's home where they have keeping a vigil as he lies dying. Hester and Pearl are now returning home quite late; Hester is going to sew a burial wrap (shroud) for the governor.

The three speak for a time, and witness a shooting star in the sky. Dimmesdale becomes very upset:

There was a singular circumstance that characterised Mr. Dimmesdale's psychological state, at this moment. 

As they watch the meteor, Pearl is also point to Roger Chillingworth, who has also been (as a physician) at the governor's house. It is this "circumstance" that has so affected Dimmesdale's "psychological state." And it is about Chillingworth that Dimmesdale questions Hester. Although Chillingworth is supposed to be caring for Dimmesdale's poor health, it is obvious the minister senses something wrong—even sinister—about the man:

“Who is that man, Hester?” gasped Mr. Dimmesdale, overcome with terror. “I shiver at him! Dost thou know the man? I hate him, Hester!”

Hester has promised not to reveal Chillingworth's true identity, and so she says nothing. Dimmesdale shares with her again how upset the doctor makes him:

“I tell thee, my soul shivers at him,” muttered the minister again. “Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I have a nameless horror of the man.”

Hester continues to remain silent, while Pearl promises to tell him what he wants to know. But she only whispers things that make no sense in his ear—she does this, she says, because he has refused to stand on the scaffold in the daylight with them the following day so that the entire community can see (we assume) the connection between the three. At this point in the story, Hester does not enlighten Dimmesdale as to who Chillingworth really is.

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The Scarlet Letter

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