What does the narrator reveal about the characters in Chapters 10-15?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Changes are rendered in the main characters of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:

Arthur Dimmesdale

Dimmesdale's secret sin has been suspected by Roger Chillingworth who poses as a physician wishing to help the minister.  Instead, Chillingworth pries into Dimmesdale's heart, questioning him theoretically about whether it is better for someone to confess his sins or to shelter them in his heart.  Dimmesdale replies that some men must do God's work, so they keep quiet.  Chillingworth is vicious and mercilessly interrogates the minister in his "terrible fascination; the minister pushes him away.  One night as the minister sleeps, Chillingworth pulls back the shirt the minister wears and sees something that makes him jump into the air. 

After this interview, Dimmesdale turns to self-flagellation as punishment for his sins as well as all-night vigils in which his mind experiences frightening visions.  One night he goes to the scaffold and climbs it.  Calling to a voice he hears, he discovers Hester and Pearl and invites them to come up with him.  When Pearl asks the minister if he will stand with them in the daytime, he replies no, and Pearl pulls back from him. Then, Dimmesdale believes that he has seen a dull red light in the shape of an immense A.  Chillingworth, who is passes by, warns Dimmesdale about his odd behavior.   In this chapter, the reader perceives that the tortuous workings of Dimmesdale's secret sin create his greatest agony.

Hester Prynne

While Hester is shocked by the changes in the minister as his moral force seems weakened.  For, the seven years have made a change in him, as well as in her.  Hester's hair no longer has its luster;warmth, passion, and charm have been replaced by duty.  Only in the care of her child, do Hester's real emotions prevail.  She stands alone as a woman, and the symbolism of the letter upon her breast fluctuates in meaning.  It is in this chapter that Hawthorne states, "The scarlet letter has not done its office."  Hester has been independent, a new woman; she is not repentant.

In Chapter XIV, Hester talks with Chillingworth and is shocked by the transformation in Chillingworth.  It is one that evokes misery in Hester as she senses her responsibility for Chillingworth, who seems powerless to resist the dictates of fate.  Little Pearl is, nevertheless, repulsed by the man.  Then, in Chapter XV, as Pearl is playful, she asks her mother why she wears the scarlet letter, and why the minister keeps his hand over his heart; furthermore, she implies that it is for the same reason that each has their oddity about them.  But, with further questioning by Hester, Pearl denies knowing the meaning of the letter. 


In the second half of Chapter XV Hawthorne develops the character of Pearl as perceived by Hester:  Pearl is wild, but tender.  Her will is strong, and she is proud; sometimes she is very perspicacious as she senses the truth about Hester and Dimmesdale.  Hester is tempted to take Pearl into her confidence, but she does not and lies, instead.  For the first time, she is "false to the symbol on her bosom."


As an Inquistor of Dimmesdale's soul, the physician interrogates Dimmesdale,

"...it must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it up in his heart."

He notices the passion that takes hold of the man.  He vows to "look deeper" into the man's heart.

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The Scarlet Letter

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