The Scarlet Letter Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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.

Parallelism
 
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.
 
Simile
 
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.
 
Symbols
 
The Scaffold. Once again, Hawthorne uses the scaffold as a symbol of guilt and shame. When Dimmesdale climbs onto it to make his confession, he's attempting to recreate the scene of public humiliation in Chapter 2. He feels that he should've been labeled a sinner right then, alongside Hester. His failure to reveal himself earlier leads to his death.
 
Themes
 
Family. Little attention has been paid to the fact that Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale form an unconventional family. In effect, Dimmesdale is the estranged father, Hester the single mother, and Pearl the bastard child born out of wedlock. These are untraditional but not uncommon roles, which Dimmesdale and Hester have chosen for themselves out of fear and shame. This separation makes them miserable. In the content of this novel, their only hope of earthly happiness is to unite as a family. Unfortunately, this proves impossible.