Last Updated on April 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 820
Chillingworth begins a thorough investigation of Dimmesdale’s character. In spite of the minister’s apparent holiness, Chillingworth believes that Dimmesdale has inherited a distinct “animal” nature from his father. Well aware that the reverend is well liked, Chillingworth proceeds carefully. When the minister is out of the house, the “leech” searches for clues. Dimmesdale can’t see Chillingworth for who and what he really is. He continues to treat the doctor as a friend.
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Chillingworth shows his patient some flowers he picked off a dead man’s grave. This is an attempt to trick the minister into revealing his deep secrets. Dimmesdale counters by saying that revealing one’s secrets in life isn’t necessary. In the end, all will be revealed to God. Any confession of sin in one’s lifetime is primarily for the purpose of solace. That is, being honest would make these people feel better, but wouldn’t necessarily improve their chance of salvation.
Dimmesdale argues that some people must hide their deepest secrets so that they can continue to do good within the community. If they were to reveal themselves, he says, then their reputations could be ruined, and if that happens, all their good work will be negated. In this, the reverend is of course speaking of himself, though he never says so directly. He changes the subject by asking his “friend” if his treatment has been working. Before Chillingworth can answer, Hester and Pearl pass by their house.
Chillingworth goes to the window. He wonders if Pearl is evil. Dimmesdale isn’t sure. Hearing this, Pearl throws a burr at the reverend and calls Chillingworth a “Black Man,” meaning a devil. Hester and Pearl hurry away, and the men are left alone again. Chillingworth returns to the question of the minister’s treatment. He admits that the minister’s ailment perplexes him. He accuses the Reverend of hiding the true cause of his ailment. Chillingworth suspects it’s a disease of the soul. This causes Dimmesdale to question whether this leech has the skills to treat him effectively. He hurries out of the room, declaring that God alone will be his doctor.
It doesn’t take long for the men to reconcile. Chillingworth continues to treat the minister’s strange illness. One day, Dimmesdale happens to fall asleep in a chair. Chillingworth sneaks up, opens the minister’s shirt, and sees the true cause of the minister’s ailment. Hawthorne doesn’t reveal this until later, but Dimmesdale has been carving an A into his chest. His guilt is slowly killing him.