What does this quote from "The Scarlet Letter" mean/explain?Quote: "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered...

What does this quote from "The Scarlet Letter" mean/explain?

Quote: "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."


Expert Answers
davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It essentially means that you should always be true to yourself and to the world. If you go through life wearing two masks, as it were, then at some point you'll find it hard to know which one is the real you and which is a persona put on for the benefit of others. This is the conflict faced by Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter. To the outside world he presents the image of a deeply devout, pious Puritan; a true man of God; one of the elect. Yet he knows deep down that he's a sinner, and his soul is tortured by his chronic inability to reconcile public virtue with private sin.

Dimmesdale yearns so much to confess his sins, but he can't. His position of respect within the community will be compromised if he does. This simply makes his inner torment all the more unbearable. To make matters worse, Dimmesdale, as a devout Calvinist, is a firm believer in predestination. God has already decided who's going to be saved and who's going to hell. There's absolutely nothing that Dimmesdale, or anyone else, can do by way of good works and deeds that's going to make the slightest bit of difference in relation to the will of God. And that includes confessing his sins and being openly true to himself.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Later in the novel, Hawthorne states: "Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence:- Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"

Not only is he describing the minister's difficulty in maintaining a "public" and "private" face, Hawthorne is also tacitly criticizing Chillingworth for him doing the same; publicly pretending to be the healing physician, but privately doing just the opposite.  Both these characters reflect the opposite of Hester, whose worst is made public, and in doing so, she is freed from attempting to keep a secret which could, like it does to both men, destroy her.


charcunning eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poor Dimmesdale! :)

This quote means that you can't pretend to act one way with all of your friends and family (the multitudes) all the while knowing that the way you are acting is NOT who you really are (the face to yourself) without eventually getting confused---who are you? Which one is the real you? Will you mess up and show the face you are trying to hide? What will happen if you do so?

To be bewildered is to be utterly confused, and living a double life and telling lies and not revealing the truth will also get you confused...and in loads of trouble...

Read the description of Dimmesdale on this link...

quinn78 | Student

ANSWER: Essentially, this awesome quote is speaking about being true to yourself. If you are being phony with who you really are, then you will be the one who suffers at the end. Both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, prominent characters in the novel, convey this two-faced nature in the countenance of an overbearing Puritan society. It is this inner conflict, existing within all humans, that eventually brings about the downfall of these characters and to a large degree sheds light upon the human condition.


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The Scarlet Letter

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