Why does Dimmesdale suffer more than Hester in The Scarlet Letter? If possible, please provide detailed examples as well. Thank you in advance. 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Reverend Dimmesdale is central to Hawthorne's novel, exemplifying the moral stated in Chapter XXIV:

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

The minister's "miserable experience" emanates from his weakness, secret sin, and his hypocrisy. For, like Raskolnikov of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, Dimmesdale suffers much mental anguish, moral dilemmas, and tortuous guilt. But, because of the stern Puritan code which would bring him disgrace, the minister cannot bring himself to confess his sin despite knowing Hester should not be alone in her punishment. In Chapter III, as Hester stands on the scaffold, Reverend Mr. Wilson calls upon Rev. Dimmesdale to plead with her to reveal her partner in sin; the minister does so as looks into Hester's eyes, asking her in a voice...tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and broken"; he concludes,

"Take heed how thou deniest to him--who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself--the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!"

Too weak to confess himself, he is denied revelation to the community as an adulterer because Hester protects his identity. So, the pale minister begins to rationalize that he yet performs good service for God in his ministry. In a discussion with his physician Roger Chillingworth in Chapter X, the minister reasons that a man may be guilty of sin, but, since he retains "a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare," he hides his sins. If he reveal them, he can achieve no good, but with concealment, he can yet do good deeds and perhaps redeem his own sin "by better service." Unfortunately, this hypocrisy eats away at the minister despite his "burden's" capability of keeping such a learned man on a level with his congregation:

his heart vibrated...with theirs, and received their pain into itself and sent its own throb of pain through a thousand other hearts, in gushes of sad, persausive eloquence.

Calling himself "a pollution and a lie," the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale attempts confession, but the congregation perceives him in a different manner,declaring,

"The saint on hearth! Alas, if he discern such sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!"

With the people's distorted perception of him, Dimmesdale comes to loathe "his miserable self." He tries self-flagellation and other methods of punishment, but his soul is still tortured by his hypocrisy. In Chapter XII, Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold in "a vain show of expiation." He suffers "a great horror of mind" as though the world sees "a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart." Tortured, he cries out as he perceives the mockery of his standing where he should have been seven years before, Dimmesdale utters a shriek. But, no one detects him until he calls to Hester and Pearl as they pass. Sadly, he denies his sinfulness again when Pearl asks if he would take hers and her mother's hand in the daylight the next day.

Dimmesdale's conflicting feelings torture him. He does not wish to admit he has sinned against the Puritan God he serves, yet he desires perfection and detests himself for his weakness. Furthermore, he hates himself for not having the courage to admit his sin in public and repent. Finally, unbearably tortured by his guilt and by the machinations of the fiendish Chillingworth who exacts revenge on him, Dimmesdale confesses.

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The Scarlet Letter

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