In The Scarlet Letter, why does Dimmesdale seem to be hiding something during his conversation with Chillingworth?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 10 of "The Scarlet Letter", Chillingworth already suspects Dimmesdale of being the father of Pearl and he is digging, trying to find out if he can coax the truth from the minister. Dimmesdale seems to be hiding something because he his the father of Pearl and does not want to admit it to anyone. In a conversation about hidden sin that is filled with innuendo and double meaning, Chillingworth taunts Dimmesdale . The minister says,"that the hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak of will yield them up, at that last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable.” Chillingworth then asks "“Then why not reveal then here?”  This makes Dimmesdale very uncomfortable and he clutches his chest and answers, "So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.” Chillingworth is quick to observe, "such men deceive themselves!” Dimmesdale quickly changes the subject to the state of his own health. "He{Dimmesdale] had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from any topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous temperament.—”But, now, I would ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, in good sooth, he deems me to have profited by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?”  Then they are interrupted by the sound of Pearl's laughter.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dimmesdale has developed the habit of holding his hand over his heart and pressing it. He does this while speaking with Chillingworth. Later, Chillingworth looks under Dimmesdale's shirt while the minister is asleep (or drugged). We don't know what he sees, but it fills him with sadistic joy. Some readers have speculated that Dimmesdale had carved the letter "A" into his flesh over his heart and wore it much the same as Hester wore her letter, except his was hidden whereas hers was on public display. This would be consistent with his habit of whipping himself to alleviate his guilt. Some think that the letter appeared mysteriously.

Dimmesdale's gesture can be taken both literally and figuratively. He held his hand to his heart because he was suffering such guilt for his secret sin, or he held his hand to his heart because he was branded with his own scarlet letter. In either case, Dimmesdale did indeed have much to hide.

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The Scarlet Letter

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