ATROPINE POISONING: WAS IT THE CAUSE OF DIMMESDALE’S DEATH?
In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Jemshed A. Khan claims that Roger Chillingworth poisoned Arthur Dimmesdale with the drug atropine in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Certainly, Chillingworth was “a man of skill in all Christian modes of physical science'; (Hawthorne 65) and was very knowledgeable about medicinal roots and herbs (Hawthorne 65). Undoubtedly, he could have been aware of how to poison Dimmesdale slowly. Although Khan’s line of conjecture is somewhat persuasive and seemingly well supported, it does not hold up under intense examination. There is much support in The Scarlet Letter to prove that Dimmesdale did not die from atropine.
The main point of Dr. Kahn’s article is to prove that Chillingwrorth wanted to kill Dimmesdale through the use of atropine poisoning, but there are many parts in the novel that suggest Chillingworth wanted to keep Dimmesdale alive to suffer through his own guilt. Evidence exists very early in the novel that deems Dr. Kahn’s theory untrue. During Chillingworth and Hester’s talk about who had wronged whom. Chillingworth says “…I shall contrive aught against his life…';(Hawthorne 70). Speaking of Dimmesdale, Chillingworth goes on to say, “…he be a man of fair repute'; (Hawthorne 70). This passage alone shows that Chillingworth did not want to kill Dimmesdale, but would rather let him suffer through what he had done because after all he was suppose to be the epitome of puritan society and Chillingworth knew he would be grieving because of this. Another part in the novel that supports the idea that Chillingworth
wanted Dimmesdale to suffer from guilt is when the author, Hawthorne, explains Chillingworth’s motives in becoming Dimmesdale’s physician. Hawthorne says that Chillingworth, being a man of skill, dove into the intellect of Dimmesdale looking for secrets and precious thoughts that might help him in the magnification of Dimmesdale’s guilt (114). The passage on 114 says nothing about Chillingworth wanting to kill...