Many characters go through transformations in The Scarlet Letter, and one of those characters is Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne writes of a puritan society, and it is the laws of that society, both written and unwritten, that Dimmesdale breaks and which causes the changes to occur. He commits the sin of adultery, and by sleeping with Hester Prynne, breaks the laws that he is supposed to represent. He cannot admit his sin because he is a holy man, and admitting his sin would mean losing the faith of his congregation. Instead he struggles with his sin and tortures himself in an effort to gain forgiveness for what he has done. Dimmesdale is described as the worst of sinners, yet he is seen as the holiest man in his community. Dimmesdale's progression occurs throughout the story, but can be seen in three main parts. He first denies his sin, then he unwillingly accepts it, and finally he overcomes it.
The three scaffold scenes can represent these three stages.
In the first scaffold scene, the town is out to witness the punishment of Hester Prynne, and some of the women are suggesting other punishments. The women are also talking about Hester and Dimmesdale. "'People say,' said another, "ÃÂthat the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation'"ÃÂ (49). The community sees Reverend Dimmesdale as a godly man who does not commit sin. In the beginning he feels fine and does not feel any guilt. Dimmesdale is trying to convince Hester to reveal the man who has sinned along with her, so the man can be relieved of his guilt, which is ironic because he is the man who has sinned with her.
What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him-yea, compel him, as it were-to add hypocrisy to sin? Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him-who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself-the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips! (65) By speaking to Hester this way, he makes sure nobody suspects him of any wrongdoing. He knows that if the community discovers his sin, they will never forgive him. It also seems that he is trying to tell Hester not to reveal his secret, and she does not. Even though he secretly wants his sin to be exposed, he is happy to know that Hester won't be the one to expose it. This is the first scaffold scene and Reverend Dimmesdale is not showing any signs of guilt yet.
By the time Dimmesdale is on the scaffold again, a few changes have taken place. He has begun to start to feel guilty about his sin and for not confessing it. He whips himself, has all night vigils and doesn't get much sleep. He also clutches his chest a lot in a way that reminds Pearl of the "A"ÃÂ on her mother's chest. Roger Chillingworth has also discovered Dimmesdale's secret and uses it to torment him. Dimmesdale has become very pale and looks almost dead, and even seems to be going crazy. Dimmesdale goes and stands on the scaffold to admit his sin, but he goes when it is pitch black outside and everybody in town is at home.
"A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson. Come up hither, I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!" Good Heavens! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually spoken? For one instant he believed that these words had passed his lips. But they were uttered only within his imagination. The venerable Father Wilson continued to step slowly onward, looking carefully at the muddy pathway before his feet, and never once turning his head towards the guilty platform. When the light of the glimmering lantern had faded quite away, the minister discovered, by the faintness which came over him, that the last few moments had been a crisis of terrible anxiety, although his mind had made an involuntary effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid playfulness. (147) Dimmesdale then invites Hester and her daughter Pearl up on the scaffold. Pearl asked if the three of them could stand together he tells her not now but someday.
"At the great judgment day,"ÃÂ whispered the minister; and, strangely enough, the sense that he was a professional teacher of the truth impelled him to answer the child so. "Then, and there, before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I must stand together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting!'' (150) In this scene Dimmesdale implies that he will not reveal his sin until the great judgment day. He goes to the scaffold to confess his sin out loud to the town, but since it is pitch black and nobody is out, he confesses it to himself. This is still a massive step toward salvation. It shows that he is beginning to realize the consequences of his sin and what must be done to gain salvation. It also shows how is beginning to reach out for the freedom that Hester has.
Dimmesdale and Hester decide to meet in the forest. They had not been alone since the sin was committed seven years ago. They decide that the three of them will run away together where they can live together feel like a family and not live in sin anymore. They decide to leave on a ship but it is not leaving for another four days. In this time a lot of major events will take place. Hester also tells Dimmesdale that her husband knew of the two's sin and has been tormenting him with it. After the two have talked Dimmesdale is relieved and a little happier.
"Do I feel joy again!" cried he, wondering at himself. "Methought the germ of it was dead in me! Oh, Hester, thou art my better angel! I seem to have flung myself-sick, sin-stained, and sorrow-blackened-down upon these forest leaves, and to have risen up all made anew, and with new powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful! This is already the better life! Why did we not find it sooner?"(Page 198) The next time the three are together is in the third scaffold scene.
In the final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale finally conquers his sin. He escapes the Devil, who was symbolized by Roger Chillingworth, by saying, "Thy power is not what it was! With God's help, I shall escape thee now!"ÃÂ (248). Dimmesdale's confession saves his soul and frees him from the one secret linking the Devil to him. Next, Dimmesdale tears away the "ministerial band from before his breast"ÃÂ, revealing a scarlet letter on his chest (250). By publicly revealing his sin, he rises above it, forgiving himself and officially asking God and the town for forgiveness. However, the forgiveness he seeks most lies in Pearl.
"My little Pearl,"ÃÂ said he, feebly-and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into a deep repose; nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sportive with the child-"dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in the forest! But now thou wilt!"ÃÂ (251) As "Pearl kissed his lips"ÃÂ¦a spell was broken"ÃÂ and his sin was forgiven (251). Arthur Dimmesdale finally dies in a way which all have forgiven him, including himself. Dimmesdale finally wins his battle against evil. He faces God and dies with an open conscience, knowing of his salvation and freedom from sin.