indistinctness and duplicity ...sl20.html#g02
- Dimmesdale has not been doing his own thinking so far,
letting Hester do it for him. Thus his thoughts are indistinct.
Shortly we will see that a conflict will open between his inner
and his outer personality, accounting for the description of
duplicity (two faces) here. We have to analyze this idea in more
Hawthorne describes two aspects of Dimmesdale--the pious minister
who accuses himself of sin, and the pious minister who inspires
others by his preaching. It is correct that his decision to
escape with Hester causes a conflict to erupt in his personality,
physically, mentally, and morally, in what amounts to an identity
crisis--he becomes a new man (maybe not what he expected at all,
and as we see, not necessarily a better one).
- British seaport. Most ships traveled between New England and
England, and not directly to European ports. Spanish Main was the
Caribbean area dominated by the Spanish.
- a self-enlisted Sister
of Charity ...sl20.html#g02
- The meaning here is that Hester is not formally a member of a
religious or nursing order of nuns. Sister of Mercy is used here
as a generic term. The Puritans did not have separate groups of
nuns and monks as the Roman Catholics. Nursing was usually done
by volunteers from the church, as a pastoral duty, but there was
no separate formal group for nursing. The founding of non-religious
nursing in the United States did not come until a decade or so
after this story. Hester was not associated with a church in this
duty, but apparently has taken on the job voluntarily. Part of
her job, Hawthorne notes here, would be to visit ships to make
sure they were not introducing disease--this was too common in
this day. It seems strange that if she was the town nurse and
Chillingworth the town doctor, they would not have worked together
at many bedsides.
preach the Election Sermon ...sl20.html#g03
- The Election Sermon, to formally install the governor of the
colony, elected just before, was always on a Wednesday, fifty
days after Easter Sunday (and thus having an association with Pentecost, fifty days after the
start of Passover). As Hawthorne, notes, it was a great honor for
a minister to be chosen to preach the sermon, which generally
spoke of important matters for the colony. Hawthorne, a Democrat
and a supporter of democracy, points out this election ceremony
as a good institution, in contrast to the later revocation of the
charter, when the governor was appointed.
Why does Hawthorne here say that the fact that Dimmesdale is gratified
and honored shows him to be pitiably weak? One important fact is
that a minister must have repented of all sin before
administering the Holy Sacrament, a fundament pastoral duty. If
he is not true to God in this respect, how can we believe that
everything else this leader has to say about politics or religion
is truthful? Dimmesdale is overcome by pride, but should be
thinking of confession, love, and repentance instead. Since he
does not realize this consciously yet, his unconscious will force
its way to the surface.
The "revolution" in "the sphere of thought and
feeling," "the total change of dynasty and moral
code," we see in a moment, reflect not the true democracy
and freedom of the new colony, but rather an inadequate rebellion
away from it. (Hawthorne does not specify exactly what moral code
Dimmesdale has adopted in contrast to an old code, but from the
picture we get of the minister's behavior it does not sound
like one that the author encourages us to follow. Although these
other actors might indeed be hypocritical, this is no way of
showing it, since it disrepects them.)
Another possibility here for the term "dynasty"
(and the term "King's mint-mark" later) is that
King Charles I was overthrown by the Puritans in the same year
this is supposed to take place, and so might have been something
that the Boston Puritans were thinking about. One wonders if this
is a subtle flashback to Hawthorne's referring in the
introduction to his overthrow and decapitation as
Surveyor of the Custom House by the change in administration in
- No man, for any
considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to
the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may
be the true. ...sl20.html#g03
- This sentence has widely been copied and quoted as an
aphorism. But we should think about it more, in this context.
Does Dimmesdale get bewildered when preaching in church? No, he
preaches eloquently and truthfully--but his listeners do not
believe him, or believe what they want to hear instead. Is that
his fault, because of duplicity? And in his private life, as a
religious man in relation to his God, he is all too honest as
well. He manages to cope somehow for seven years this
way, keeping the two faces separate. It is only now that
Dimmesdale has this meeting and new plan with Hester that he
undergoes a crisis. But is the crisis a bewilderment as to which
is the true personality? Is not each personality a true one, but
the difficulty instead that he is not satisifed, his unconscious
mind cannot be satisifed, until he has but one identity, one that
embodies both truths? It is not a matter of logical, rational
truth, but of emotional, artistic truth.
Hawthorne goes off on another track immediately, attributing (and
having Dimmesdale himself attribute) the minister's
psychotic behavior in this chapter to some influence of the
Devil, caused by Arthur's agreeing to escape with Hester.
Another view might be that this plan has only brought on an
underlying crisis, and that the Devil has nothing to do with it.
The plan to escape in itself would not be evil--it would only be
evil to refuse to repent, to live in hypocrisy, and to fail to
take care of Hester and Pearl. In other words, he must assume his
true identity as a gifted minister, a lover, and a father--and have
this identity confirmed by his society and his family. This is a
difficult job, and the pastor is tempted here to give it all up
and try to make his own escape--but he cannot.
celestial city ...sl20.html#g07
- Heaven, ironically. For another ironical or satirical look at
complacent religious people, see
- Our copy-text has "gravestones" while the
Library of America text (based on the Centenary Edition)
hyphenates the word as "grave-stones." Both
mean the same and are alternate spellings. Each spelling
is found several times in Hawthorne's writings.
In "Chippings with
a Chisel," 1838, he hyphenates the word.
- Both our copy-text and the Library of America text
hyphenate this word at the end of the line. We choose to
represent it as a hyphenated word here. We cannot find
any other use of "churchmember" in Hawthorne's
works, while "Old News"
uses the hyphenated form once. The meaning is the same,
and spelling and hyphenation practices were not so fixed at the
time of this edition as they are now.
- Anne Turner, Sir
Thomas Overbury ...sl20.html#g11
Chillingworth was associated with Overbury and Turner (a court
woman and alleged witch who allegedly aided in the poisoning).
Now Mistress Ann Hibbins is said to be part of this same devilish
gang in old England and to have brought it to Boston along with
the "famous yellow starch" (not apparently a poison but
just one of her inventions) and ruff. The touch adds a bit of
authenticity and mystery to our drama, neatly tying poisoning as
with Chillingworth to witchcraft through Hibbins or agents in the
wilderness of the Devil or Black Man. Again we see the theme of
the meaning of the wilderness and the mission of the Puritans.
Many of the Native Americans at this point had been converted by
Roman Catholic Jesuit priests from Canada, but to the Puritans
that would have been just as bad as the Black Man.
- the Apostle
- Dimmesdale apparently took the liberal side of Eliot in
trying to convert the Indians, though he is never shown as having
any direct relation with them--at most he might have been a
scholar to help with translation.
- the New
- We encountered New Jerusalem in
Chapter 9. Chillingworth
must be talking with a great deal of irony. Now he knows that
Dimmesdale is aware of his real identity and his plan. He says
that Dimmesdale will not escape, and that prayers will not save
him. The New Jerusalem is not for people who do good works or
preach with eloquence, but for saved sinners. The pastor cannot
be saved unless he repents, and Chillingworth sees no sign that
he is ready to do so.
There might also be a play on words here, that preaching is so
valued in this new Boston, the New Jerusalem of New England.
The irony is that the preaching is hypocrisy, so the mint-mark
does not guarantee that the coin is not counterfeit.
There is also some word play about the other world, which could
be interpreted as either Heaven or Europe.
- a vast, immeasurable tract
of written space behind him! ...sl20.html#g28
- One has to think that Hawthorne when writing this book felt
much the same--a burst of inspiration that allowed him to bring
together many old ideas and renew them, and a fast work pace so
his writing kept up with his thoughts, and allowed him to write a
large enough novel (up to the end he was worried that it might
not be long enough for a novel, and if it turned out to be a long
story it would have to be published with others, as his previous
collections were--it might be that Hawthorne wrote up to here and
finished the remaining chapter in a later burst.) We have to
wonder if Hawthorne also was undergoing an identity crisis as a
man and here found the same solution as did Dimmesdale, to write
out his thoughts and make them a work of art. This bridges the
gap between him and the reader and allows him to go through the
intimacy crisis that would be next in his life stages. But for
Dimmesdale it seems to be a recognition that he can never escape
with Hester, and must fulfil his fate as a clergyman, and inspire
good for New England. This point seems to be the resolution of
his crisis, and his sermon and scaffold scenes are acted out almost
Summary. From here until the end of the book
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Eldred, Eric. Notes to Ch. 20, The Scarlet
Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.
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