The Scarlet Letter Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

Now that Chillingworth knows Dimmesdale's secret, he intends to exact his revenge. He becomes a cruel, calculating man and takes every opportunity he can to hurt the minister. His torture is subtle, however, and the reverend isn't able to pinpoint exactly what has changed about Chillingworth. His former "friend" becomes a kind of enemy, and Dimmesdale comes to hate him. Still, the minister is tortured by his guilt, and he fears that his distrust of Chillingworth stems from this guilt rather than from Chillingworth's own actions. He doesn't confront his enemy and instead suffers in silence.

Meanwhile, Dimmesdale becomes even more popular as a minister. His sensitivity makes it easy to relate to his flock, who admire him over the older, more learned scholars in Boston. This emotional and sensitive nature stems from his guilt, which keeps him from climbing to the high ranks of men. He instead remains on the same level as his parishioners. Most of the girls in his church fall in love with him. Elderly citizens expect him to die first and wish to be buried near him.

This popularity only makes Dimmesdale worse. It weighs heavily on his conscience and leads him to think of himself as a kind of pollution. He fantasizes about standing at the pulpit and confessing his sins. Several times, he denigrates himself in front of his flock, referring to himself as "a thing of unimaginable iniquity," but this only makes them love him more. In response, Dimmesdale starts to whip himself with a scourge. He stands in front of a mirror, telling himself he's evil. He sees angels and demons around him and imagines Pearl pointing first at her mother's scarlet letter A and then at his chest.

One night, Dimmesdale has an idea. He rushes out the door. (to be continued in the next chapter)

Allusions
 
Enoch. A Biblical figure and ancestor of Noah. One tradition holds that Enoch never experienced a mortal death. Another says that upon reaching Heaven Enoch was appointed chief of the archangels and a guardian of celestial treasures. He's considered an unassailably holy man in Christian theology. The Reverend alludes to him to prove that his parishioners think too highly of him.
 
Metaphor. Early on in this chapter, Hawthorne refers to Dimmesdale's secret as a "dark treasure." Later on, the minister thinks of himself as "a pollution and a lie." These metaphors might appear to conflict or to cause catachresis, but they are in fact in keeping with the themes of the novel. Hawthorne has long since established that secrets are both precious (like Pearl) and a source of illness (like the A on the minister's chest). Thus, treasure is a form of pollution, and pollution is a form of treasure.
 
Symbols
 
Tongues of Flame. These tongues of flame descend on certain preachers, "symbolising, it would seem, not the power of speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language." These flaming tongues would appear to give Dimmesdale the power to communicate with his flock on an interpersonal level.