What is the overall perception of Dimmesdale as a character in The Scarlet Letter?    

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The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is the most human of Nathaniel Hawthorne's characters in The Scarlet Letter. While the others are rather "fixed" in their roles, Reverend Dimmesdale struggles constantly with his secret sin.  And, it is his final victory over his guilt with his confession that designates the climax of the novel.  Therefore, in a certain manner, Hawthorne's narrative is directed by the development of the character Arthur Dimmesdale, who cannot for seven years admit his fall, but in a final dramatic decision, standing on the scaffold with Hester and their child Pearl, makes his confession of guilt that marks his victory over himself. He, then, fulfills Hawthorne's theme stated in the conclusion,

Be true!  Be true! Be true!  Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!

As a psychological study of the impact of sin, Arthur Dimmesdale is the character who best portrays the debilitating effects that guilt has upon both one's body and soul. In Chapter III, for instance, Dimmesdale is too weak in spirit to admit to his complicity to the sin of Hester Prynne when the Reverend Mr. Wilson demands that Hester reveal the name of him who "tempted" her, even though with great dramatic irony his words turn to Dimmesdale,

"It behooves you, therefore, to exhort her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof."

When Roger Chillingworth steals into his confidence as his physician in Chapter X, he asks the minister about those who conceal sin.  Dimmesdale, of course, considers his own case and replies with subtle irony,

It may be that they are kep silent by the very constitution of their nature.  Or--can we not suppose it--guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare, they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men;...no good can be achieved by them....

Then, he also suggests that sinners may remain silent in order to do God's work. He knows that he can no longer help others if he is acknowledged as a sinner in the Puritan community.  Secretly, then, he punishes himself physically and tries to confess spiritually by humbling himself, declaring himself unworthy.  But, the congregation loves him more:

While....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 brillant popularity in his sacred office.

For, the more he protests that he is a sinner, the greater the congregation loves him. Dimmesdale is then torutured since it has been his nature to be honest:  "He longed to speak out from his own pulpit." Instead, lacks the courage and is mentally tortured for seven long years by his conscience as well as by Roger Chillingworth. When Hester reveals that Chillingworth, her former husband, is determined to make him known, Dimmesdale grows fearful, yet he loathes himself for being too fearful to admit his fears.

Finally, he climbs onto the scaffold on the Election Day and feels as though he has escaped from the "dungeon of his own heart" as he confesses his sin, and he grabs the hand of Pearl, who kisses him in recognition. The Reverend Dimmesdale is finally "True." False to God and man for seven years, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale at last finds some comfort in his confession as it is a victory over his weaknes

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