Guiltiness possesses Reverend Dimmesdale. Unlike Hester, Dimmesdale fails to come clean about his sin of fornication until moments before his death. Therefore, he struggles with his guilt throughout the entire book, almost until his death. Hester learns to cope with her scarlet “A,” but Dimmesdale cannot without confessing. When he does not confess, he becomes depressed and self-inflicts punishment on himself by carving an “A” into his chest by his heart, among other actions. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale suffers from his sin in the entire story until seconds before his death, when he absolves himself from all guilt.
As soon as Hester stands on the stocks with Pearl for a day without him, Dimmesdale becomes forever haunted from his guilty conscience. He self-inflicts a great deal of harm upon himself both physically and mentally. “And thus, while standing on the scaffold, in this vain show of expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart. On that spot, in very truth, there was, and there had long been, the gnawing and poisonous tooth of bodily pain. Without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud; an outcry that went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one house to another, and reverberated from the hills in the background; as if a company of devils detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro” (Hawthorne 128). Dimmesdale comes close to confession many times, but cowardice and self-preservation come into play, affecting his decision. He is unable to summon the power to confess, but instead tortures himself and engraves an “A” by his heart. He quickly realizes that he will not survive long in his current situation.
Dimmesdale becomes caught between a rock and a hard place, with a confession ahead of him and his guilt and Chillingworth urging him closer to death every day. Chillingworth takes advantage of Dimmesdale’s situation and torments him further at every possible occasion. Every event puts Dimmesdale further and further into a hole of depression and unhealthiness that he will never climb out of.
“’Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!’ cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. ‘Better had he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense,—for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this,—he knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heart-strings, and that an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it’” (Hawthorne 147). Chillingworth believes that Dimmesdale should regret his sin, and believes that it becomes...