French poet Jean De La Fontaine once said, “Nothing weighs on us so heavily as a secret does.” Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a tale of a woman named Hester Prynne who is involved in an infidelity scandal. As a result she is punished by the relentless society and is ordered to bear a scarlet “A” on her bosom for the remainder of her life which stands for adulterer. However, the mystery as to who the father is of her newborn baby, Pearl would remain a mystery for seven years. One of the town’s most renowned figures, their beloved minister Arthur Dimmesdale proves to be a true exhibit of Mr. Fontaine’s saying since he is the illicit lover of Hester and is Pearl’s father. The pain of his secret within a society of people, who envelop themselves around religion and their clergymen, proves to be too much of a burden for Dimmesdale to handle, so he chooses to keep his sin a secret. Years go by and the minister grows mentally, physically and spiritually weaker as the weight of his sin bears down on him. Yet towards the end of the novel, Dimmesdale overcomes a great change seven years later and conquers his fear of revealing his sin to the public as he experiences God grace the moment he dies. The strain of his sin and the physical symbol of the scarlet letter takes its toll on Dimmesdale as it causes him to change from a well-spoken, powerful minister to an unhealthy, silent man filled with guilt and sadness. By the end however, Dimmesdale realizes that he must reveal his sin to relieve his anguish thus freeing him towards the path of his newfound salvation even in the untimely moment of his death.
Out of all the main characters, Dimmesdale exhibits the greatest transformation within due to the burden of his secret sin. Within the first couple of chapters of the Scarlet Letter, not only is Mr. Dimmesdale seen as a wise, self-confident young minister that is trusted by all of the townspeople, but also a living saint or angel who has been sent by God. The reverend spoke to his congregation in Salem with great authority and gave the best sermons anyone had ever heard. On the day Hester was released from jail after the town discovered she had slept with someone other than her husband, she bore the scarlet letter representing a public symbol of anguish. When she stepped on the scaffold for public scolding, Dimmesdale from above asked her to reveal her lover:
“If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life.” (62)
Ironically, Dimmesdale says it would be best for her to...