The End Of Dimmesdale Essay, Research Paper
The End of a Coward
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the cause of tragedy is centered upon the rigid Puritan society that leads to great consequences in the lives of sinners. Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale’s act of adultery greatly affects their lives and its result greatly alters their presence in the community. Hester handles her situation with as much dignity and pride as possible, confessing and bearing the punishments amiably. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, acts in a different and cowardly manner, as he is unable to confess his sin and accept society’s and God’s punishment. While Hester flourishes into a servant of God, Dimmesdale struggles to confess throughout the novel. Dimmesdale’s inability to confess his sin and accept punishment eventually leads to his downfall.
Arthur Dimmesdale’s inability to confess is strictly due to his fear of confrontation, thus characterizing him as a coward. The fact that Dimmesdale does not publicly acknowledge or reveal his sin only contributes in denouncing himself as well as his courage. His lack of a confession solely results in the loss of power, self-esteem, and dignity. His great lack of inner strength is easily grasped due to the lies he preaches every week for seven painful years about truth and in the manner in which he avoids confrontation. He spreads the word of holiness and goodness, yet he himself does not abide these simple laws of the Puritan lifestyle. The minister can only extol Hester when she refuses to reveal him as the father by expressing “the wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart!”(69), rather than confess his own half of the sin. He can only praise a woman who has more strength and power than himself, for degrading her would be extremely hypocritical for a man in his position. Throughout the story, Dimmesdale desperately tries to confess. Envying Hester for her courage, he says, “Happy are you Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom!” (188). Dimmesdale wishes he could stir up enough courage within him to confess, so he can face the proper punishment. For seven years, Dimmesdale withers in his own cowardice while wearing a mask of purity. By being the highly acclaimed preacher of his community, Dimmesdale feels it is his duty to represent the model of a good citizen. His high position only invests higher quantities of dread and fear within, digging Dimmesdale farther into a hole of shame and failure. Dimmesdale inflicts torment on himself, including long periods of fasting. In addition to hours of staring at himself in the mirror, he could also be caught numerous times in his closet, whipping himself and burning the letter “A” on his chest, or at the scaffold in the wee hours of the morning, practicing how he is going to confess the next day. Dimmesdale is deluding himself by pretending that his private punishment is adequate. Similarly, there are also some things that go on that are out of Dimmesdale’s control. For example, bizarre thoughts and hallucinations take over him. His outward appearance also reflects this. “His cheek was paler and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before-when it had now become a constant habit…to press his hand over his heart”(118). “He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself”(141). Proving, once again, that no good came out of his self-inflicted punishment. Even though he was privately repentant at home, his ministerial duties were carried out, attempting to keep his personal life out of the church. Dimmesdale desperately tries to punish himself to beg the forgiveness of God, but will not be able to get God’s forgiveness until he is brave and admits his sin. The minister’s meager attempt to admit his part of the sin seven years after it has occurred is yet another representation of his weakness. When he collects the courage to confess, he chooses to do so at night when no one is around to witness his confrontation, and cannot even remain solitary, but requests the presence of Hester and her daughter, Pearl. It is not even possible for Dimmesdale to hold his own composure, as he is “carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture . . . and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of laughter” (151). He is unable to acknowledge his sin during the day due to his fear of the reaction of the community in dealing with the fact that their well-respected minister has been a part of a great sin.
When the minister does finally reach a point of confession, he does so in the manner of a weak and cowardly person. He holds his sin for seven years – seven years of silence and sinning, seven years of inflicting pain and torture. Once he reaches a point near death, he chooses not to confess out of goodness, but out of the knowledge that if he does, he will have a chance of forgiveness from God. His confession does not contain even a slight shred of dignity or courage – he has to coerce Pearl and Hester to join him on the scaffold for fear of being alone. Dimmesdale completely avoids confrontation by confessing before death. He does not suffer any public humility or embarrassment as Hester has. He does not witness the reaction of the community. Hence, he escapes all punishment. The confession of Arthur Dimmesdale only exposes his cowardice to his community and denounces his position, rather than strengthening him. Dimmesdale can evidently be characterized as a coward and false, not only to himself, but to his congregation as well. The fact that he his held above the rest in his community leads him to believe he is a model for those to follow, and he is not able to deal with the fact that he has broken the mold. Dimmesdale is aware that he has to still the voice of his conscience in order to make peace with God and himself, yet fails to do so out of fear and anxiety, thus becoming a “servant of the devil”(220). Due to the high pedestal on which he is placed because of his part in the Puritan community, Dimmesdale is invested with fear, cowardice, and inability to confess his sin, leaving him a powerless and weak man.
Hawthorne believes that when society deals out punishment, it is dealing out God’s punishment. Both the case of Hester and the case of Dimmesdale indicate this view of Hawthorne. In Hester’s case, she confesses her crime, is assigned punishment by society and flourishes. Hester not only accepts society’s punishment, but also individually interprets it, going above and beyond it. By doing this, Hester becomes a servant of God. She abides by the standards of God and takes it upon herself to do good. She believes that she can still reach heaven if she does what she is supposed to. Hester not only takes excellent care of her child, but also reaches out to the community to help even more. She is such a figure in society that they even consider her “our Hester”(111). She is “so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted”(111). The scarlet letter, or society’s punishment, has made her a better servant of God than she has ever been. Hester’s life has been redirected, and she was able to select the path of righteousness and appears able to eventually reach salvation, thanks to her abiding by society’s punishment. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, avoids society, and hence avoids God. Dimmesdale never confesses and takes punishment into his own hands. Hawthorne portrays that had Dimmesdale gone to society, or God’s representative on earth, he would have received an appropriate punishment and not suffered. Instead, Dimmesdale struggles to his death, and while he does eventually confess, it is too late, and Dimmesdale dooms himself. We are not sure what happens to Dimmesdale, but had he chosen society’s punishment over his own, he would have surely been headed towards salvation.