The Scarlet Letter Roger Chillingworth
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Roger Chillingworth

Extended Character Analysis

Roger Chillingworth’s name fits the coldness and malevolence of his character. The hunchbacked Chillingworth is Hester Prynne’s husband, a man Hester believed was killed by Native Americans. However, at the beginning of the story, Chillingworth returns to Boston the day Hester is released from jail and faces public torment on the pillory.

Once a man devoted to study and apothecary—he lived among the Native Americans to study their natural medicine—Chillingworth turns to vengeance once he returns to New England and discovers that Hester has committed adultery. He vows to find and enact revenge on Hester’s lover. He becomes the town physician and, noticing Minister Dimmesdale’s diminishing health, offers to help him. As Chillingworth begins to spend more time with Dimmesdale, he grows suspicious that he might be Pearl’s father. Chillingworth obsessively studies Dimmesdale, “delving among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern.” He becomes like a leech to Dimmesdale, always watching and observing him. Chillingworth recognizes that there is something in Dimmesdale’s conscience that is prohibiting him from getting better. Chillingworth’s suspicions are confirmed when he notices the mark of a letter “A” on Dimmesdale’s chest.

Over the course of seven years study of Dimmesdale, Chillingworth transforms into a “devil.” The townspeople and narrator notice how Chillingworth transforms from a “calm, meditative, scholar-like” physician to a man “haunted either by Satan himself or Satan’s emissary.” He “plot[s] against [Dimmesdale’s] soul” and derives pleasure from Dimmesdale’s pain. Chillingworth becomes single-mindedly obsessed with Dimmesdale’s downfall. He is symbolically associated with the color black, and his hunchback becomes increasingly stooped as he obsessively gathers herbs for Dimmesdale’s treatments.

In the final chapters of the novel, Chillingworth sabotages Hester’s plan to escape to Europe by signing on to the same voyage. Unable to escape with Hester, Dimmesdale atones for his sin during his final sermon and dies. Even though Chillingworth’s grim work is now complete, Dimmesdale's public confession robs Chillingworth of the vengeance he craved. He dies within a year of Dimmesdale's death, and he leaves all of his wealth to Pearl.