Download The Scarlet Letter Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Arthur Dimmesdale

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 which 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...

(The entire section is 422 words.)