Extended Character Analysis
Arthur Dimmesdale is the town minister of Puritan Boston. He is Hester’s previous lover and Pearl’s father. Whereas Hester wears her shame publicly through the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale keeps his shame private. His secret—and the resultant guilt he feels—manifests in him physically. He becomes weak, pale, and enfeebled.
Dimmesdale is hailed by his fellow Bostonians as a powerful orator and compelling minister. However, he holds the secret of his adultery inside him, and it begins to wear on him. The townspeople interpret his physical deterioration as a result of his vivid imagination, powerful sensibility, and devotion to the church. They interpret his sermons about sin and repentance as parables instead of what they really are: hidden attempts to atone for his own sin. His parishioners’ respect for him only exacerbates his misery, because he alone recognizes the hypocrisy of his words.
Eventually Dimmesdale realizes he cannot hide from his sin. He goes to the scaffolding one night, where he confesses his sins. No one hears him except for Hester and Pearl, who happen to be walking by, and Roger Chillingworth, who hides in the dark.
Some time later, Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest, where they embrace. Hester admits that Chillingworth is her ex-husband, and she begs Dimmesdale to forgive her. He does, and they make plans to escape to Europe together. For the first time, Hester formally introduces Dimmesdale to his daughter. Meeting Pearl sparks Dimmesdale’s desire to come clean of the sin that has afflicted him for years. When the plan to escape to Europe falls through, Dimmesdale reveals his secrets during his final sermon on the pillory scaffolding. He tears open his ministerial band and reveals the mark of a letter A on his chest. Dimmesdale is so ashamed and guilt-ridden—yet also victorious for finally confessing his sins publicly—that he falls down and dies. Pearl kisses him on the lips, signaling that through death, Dimmesdale is finally able to rid himself of his long-standing guilt.
Dimmesdale and Hester receive vastly different responses to their shared act of sin. Hester is publicly shamed yet must find ways to accept her fate in society; Dimmesdale suffers internally for the rest of his life yet is lauded by society for his ministry. Hester lives a long, fulfilling life; Dimmesdale deteriorates and dies. Nevertheless, Dimmesdale is revered even after his death. The Puritan congregants view Dimmesdale’s confession and death as a feat of incredible strength and as an example of divine intervention.