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Dimmesdale Lacks Courage In Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter

2178 words - 9 pages

The Scarlet Letter - Dimmesdale is Good, but Lacks Courage              

There is a fine line between hypocrisy and cowardice.  Arthur Dimmesdale, a principal character in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter provides a perfect example of how thin that line can be.   The Scarlet Letter relates a story about sin and the many consequences of not having strength of character.  The true nature of Reverend Dimmesdale's character has been debated since the first publication of the novel.  Dimmesdale is considered by many to be a hypocrite because he cared more about protecting his reputation than he did about protecting the woman he loved.   Others view the Reverend in a more sympathetic light and see him as not a hypocrite, but as a good man who merely lacked courage.  The contention that Dimmesdale was a good person who merely lacked the courage to come forward and admit his sin is supported throughout the text of the novel.

            The novel takes place in a small Massachusetts colony and revolves around an affair between a local woman, Hester Prynne, and a young reverend named Arthur Dimmesdale.  As punishment, Hester is forced by the townspeople to wear a scarlet colored, letter "A" upon her chest for the rest of her life.  The letter would be a constant reminder to Hester and the townspeople of her sin.  Her sin is further compounded by the fact that she will not state the name of her accomplice- Dimmesdale.  Hester has to face much suffering due to her sin.  What separates her torment from the type of anguish that Dimmesdale incurred is that the Reverend's was an internal pain, a disease on his heart that would eventually make its way outside, consuming him and ultimately killing him.  "If it be the soul's disease it gnawed and tortured him, by some black trouble of the heart."  It is this disease that proves that Dimmesdale was not a hypocrite by showing that he realized his action was sinful.  This is proved by looking at the torment the Reverend faced internally and externally, his intentions, and his love and concern for the welfare of Hester and his illegitimate daughter, Pearl.
 

            The agony that Reverend Dimmesdale was feeling throughout the novel had many origins.  For example, his conscience had a great negative effect on him.  By keeping his sin a secret, he internalized the pain that is inevitably a consequence of sinning.  The anguished Dimmesdale struggles to pacify his conscience as it consumes his very being.  "With every successive Sabbath, his cheeks grew paler and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before."  This shows that while Hester's pain was a mental anguish, the Reverend had to deal with both mental as well as physical pain.  Each time Dimmesdale stood in front of his congregation, he felt weaker and more ashamed.  Dimmesdale's pain could be seen not only in his demeanor but also by the clutching of his chest.  Throughout the novel, the Reverend could be seen placing his hand over his...

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