, Research Paper
There have been many tragic heroes throughout the history of literature,
including the tragic hero of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In
The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne makes the tragic hero clearly understood.
Roger Chillingworth is obviously the tragic hero in this novel. There are many
facts to back up this claim.
A tragic hero can be described as a man/woman who has great
promise, ability, and integrity of character. This is a clear match to
Chillingworth’s personality. Although later plagued with the evils of revenge,
Chillingworth has the promise to be a great hero. He is a man well educated
in the areas of medicine. He is also is strong willed, persuasive, and able to
look directly into a person’s sole. These abilities could be used for evil, but
they also the potential for a vast greatness. In chapter 10, page 122, when
speaking of men who keep their sins hidden, even if for the purpose of good,
Chillingworth says to Dimmesdale, “Trust me, such men deceive themselves.”
Chillingworth never kept his sins secret, showing the potential for good in his
heart. He would have had many secrets had he been made up purely of evil.
Should Chillingworth not have been bent on revenge, he could have helped
many people both physically and mentally. Surely this would be the work of a
great hero and not a hideous monster as he is often depicted.
A tragic hero can also be depicted as a person who has a tragic flaw or
weakness. It is obvious that Chillingworth’s flaw is in his need for revenge.
This is what would bring him to his end. His need for revenge changed him
from a potential hero to an evil bent on vengeance. His entire existence
became focused on the thought of torturing Dimmesdale. This is what brought
him from becoming a hero, to becoming a tragic hero. The flaw of revenge
brought him to a tragedy. His own weakness was his undoing, bringing him a
horrible demise. This was easily seen in the novel.
A tragic hero must have his actions involve him in choices.
Chillingworth had the choice of whether or not to pursue Hester’s partner in
her crime of adultery. Once he found Dimmesdale guilty of this crime, he
began the mental torture of Dimmesdale as his own form of revenge. He
could have left Dimmesdale and lived a life solely of good, but he chose to
find his retribution. This may have been his weakness, but this could have
been prevented had Chillingworth decided not to find out the truth behind
Dimmesdale’s secret past actions. There was never a time throughout the
novel where Chillingworth was forced to do anything. Once he was bent on
the mental anguish of Dimmesdale, his life revolved around it, but that was
his own choice. Chillingworth was a man of free will with a major flaw in his
Potential good, weaknesses, and choices are not the only things that
make up a tragic hero. A tragic hero also has to die at the end of the novel
from which he/she came. This death can come from many different reasons.
Chillingworth dies at the end of The Scarlet Letter because of his own
weaknesses. He dies from the pure evil which is led into his life. His goals of
vengeance make him a pure tragedy.
The evidence is clear why Chillingworth is the tragic hero of The
Scarlet Letter. He could have been a great hero, but his flaws brought him to
a tragic end. Had Chillingworth been made solely of good, he would have
been a hero, and not a tragic hero. This is what a tragic hero is all about. A
tragic hero gives a story an interesting plot. The Scarlet Letter would not be
as good a novel had Chillingworth entered being an evil character. It is the
transformation from being a potential hero to a hero brought down by his own
flaws that makes Chillingworth the tragic hero.