What explanation is offered for the minister's strange behavior by those who denied seeing any scarlet letter?"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 24 of "The Scarlet Letter," after the minister has expired upon the scaffold in the arms of his beloved Hester Prynne, conjectures arise about the scarlet mark upon his bared breast.  There are those who have denied that there is any mark upon the minister's breast.  Nor do they feel that the minister has professed any guilt:

According to these highly respectable witness, the minister, conscious that he was dying,--consious, also, that the reverence of the multitutde placed him already among saints and angels,--had desired, by yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman to express to the world how utterly nugatory is the choices of man's own righteousness. After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike.

In other words, as indoctrinated Puritans, certain spectators interpret what has happened as a dying Dimmesdale's attempt to underscore the depravity of man by dying in the arms of the disgraced woman, to show that good deeds are of no worth,  His death is a parable that proves the "phantom of human merit," the illusion that one can earn grace.

Hawthorne includes this interpretation of the events in Dimmesdale's death to again point to the narrow obstinacy of the Puritans who are so sanctimonious in their interpretation of natural events.

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The Scarlet Letter

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