The Scarlet Letter Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

Dimmesdale finally finishes his sermon. Discussing it amongst themselves, his parishioners declare that his was a brilliant speech and that he's the holiest man to ever live in New England. He himself thinks exactly the opposite, and the disproportionate amount of admiration he receives in this scene leads him to at last reveal his secret. He calls Hester and Pearl to his side, ignoring Chillingworth's claim that he's acting like a madman. He climbs to the scaffold, where he declares that Hester is not the only sinner in their midst. He himself bears a scarlet letter, which he reveals in dramatic fashion by tearing open his shirt. There, the entire crowd can see the A carved into his skin.

Weakened by his outburst, Dimmesdale falls down. Hester rushes to him and cradles his head in her arms one last time. Before he dies, he prays that God will forgive Chillingworth's sins, as well as his own. Pearl then kisses her father on the lips, crying over him as he speaks his dying words: that God has shown mercy by forcing them to suffer for their sins in life and that they may still be reunited in the afterlife. With that, he bids her farewell.

It's no accident that Dimmesdale's sudden confession takes place on the same spot of Hester's public humiliation. Hawthorne uses this parallelism to both align and misalign his main characters, binding them together in their sin but differentiating them by the effect that sin has had on their lives.
Hawthorne describes the blush fading from Dimmesdale's hot cheeks "like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers." This fading of color corresponds to a fading of energy and passion that leaves the Reverend weak and frail.

(The entire section is 439 words.)