What effect does Reverend Dimmesdale's guilt have upon his popularity in the colony?

The public's knowledge of Dimmesdale's guilt makes him seem particularly noble and spiritual to them. This, in turn, is what causes his popularity to grow.

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This proposed question is a very interesting one indeed. Reverend Dimmesdale 's guilt does not directly affect his popularity, but it does make the reader question whether or not he should remain in office. Being a young man, Dimmesdale is most likely under scrutiny by the older generation. As the...

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This proposed question is a very interesting one indeed. Reverend Dimmesdale's guilt does not directly affect his popularity, but it does make the reader question whether or not he should remain in office. Being a young man, Dimmesdale is most likely under scrutiny by the older generation. As the times begin to change toward more leniency towards certain once thought crimes, Dimmesdale still takes his vows of reverend seriously, and thus his "crime" begins to way heavy upon him. Throughout the story, Dimmesdale is constantly facing an internal battle over the decision of whether or not to admit his part in the sin of Hester Prynne. Dimmesdale is left with two choices; one choice leaves him tortured by his own mind; the other will result in being disgraced to the entire community. His reputation with the town is one of perfection. No matter what error he makes, the people still consider him the ideal example of a flawless life. By keeping this secret, Dimmesdale becomes rather emotional in his preaching and is able to sympathize with his sinful congregation.

Whenever he preaches, the people listen intently and follow every bit of advice Dimmesdale gives. Clearly, it would appear that Dimmesdale would be most happy by keeping quiet about all that has happened and go on with his life. We are given the description of him at his Election Sermon, despite his peculiar behavior recently, as “an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than any previous one, or than any which could hereafter be.”(223)

Popularity is regarded highly in many people’s minds. Dimmesdale is possibly the most popular and well-liked man in the whole community.

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Ironically, Dimmesdale's guilt makes him more of a popular minister than he already was.  Of course, his guilt is known only to himself, but it does manifest itself in a number of ways which only serve to make him more admirable.

For example, the more he declares to be an unworthy spiritual leader, the more the protests grow to the contrary.  The public simply sees this as a self-effacing characteristic by a most humble minister.  The more he tries to proclaim his guilt in passive ways, the more the public sees him as a truly righteous leader.

In addition, his appearance and mood becomes more solemn and introverted.  He mopes around, becomes pale, talks socially infrequently and appears to becoming physically ill to the point that he obtains a private physician.  However, all of these traits just reinforce the public's idea that he is willing to sacrifice everything for God.

Only when the physician's mental pressure and his love for Hester drive him to the decision to leave with her, does his true guilt appear to all.  However, he dies, making himself forever a martyr in the intolerant community.

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The part of the novel you need to re-visit to answer this question in Chapter 11, entitled "The Interior of a Heart." This is rather a sinister chapter as it talks about the way that Chillingworth plans to psychologically encroach on Arthur Dimmesdale's privacy and space, probing into the very centre of his soul to discover what deep and dark secret oppresses him so badly.

However, as you indicate, the severe impact of Dimmesdale's guilt does have an impact on his work as a minister. Consider what the text tells us:

While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul, and given over to the machinations of his deadliest enemy, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. He won it, indeed, in great part, by his sorrows. His intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life.

It is his guilt that allows Dimmesdale to have "sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind." "His heart vibrated in unison with theirs," we are told, making him accessible. Part of his success, then, lies in the fact that he himself identifies himself as a sinner and recognises the truth of that fact in his own life. This gives him no arrogance or pride when he ministers to those who are like him. Such a manner and approach to people in spiritual need endears him to them, making him immensely popular.

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