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Roger Chillingworth Character Analysis

Roger Chillingworth in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a revolutionary man. His views on topics such as medicine are influenced by the natives which whom he lived with. These ideas, which are frowned upon by the Puritan society, begin to control his life. Chillingworth slowly progresses from an old, wise, physician, to a malevolent monster. Physically, he becomes more bent over while at the same time he also becomes more conniving in his thoughts. Chillingworth’s entire purpose for staying in town changes as he learns more about the father of Pearl. Chillingworth becomes contagious in a sense because the more time he spends with Arthur Dimmesdale, the more Dimmesdale begins to start to rot as well. The townspeople agree that Roger Chillingworth is no good and that he is truly from the devil. Roger Chillingworth certainly changes and differs from the rest of society intellectually, mentally, and physically.

The reader’s first image that they have of Chillingworth is with an Indian. Indians were considered savages and the Christians believed them to be from the devil because they connected themselves with nature. Coincidentally, Chillingworth uses many herbal ingredients in his remedies, including the ones which he gives Hester and Pearl when he goes to visit them in prison when he first arrives in town. “My old studies in alchemy, and my sojourn, for above a year past, among a people well versed in kindly properties of simples, have made a better physician of me than many that claim the medical degree,” (67), he told Hester. Chillingworth and his medical ideas are certainly different than the typical thoughts of the townspeople. Not only did Chillingworth exemplify a differentiation in his medical beliefs by collecting herbs and ingredients from the earth, but also in his theory of genetics.

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When Hester and Pearl were brought to Governor Bellingham’s place, Chillingworth suggests the theory of genetics as a way to determine the father. “Would it be beyond a philosopher’s research to analyze that the child’s nature, and, from its make and mould, to give a shrewd guess at the father?” (106), he asked. But this idea was considered ludicrous. “Nay; it would be sinful, in such a question, to follow the clew of profane philosophy,” (106), Mr. Wilson replied to this idea. It is a bit ironic how Hawthorne placed the word ‘ sinful’ in the response because it exemplifies completely different worlds of opinions. In this case, Mr. Wilson, a Christian, believes it to be a sin to believe in something in where there is no proof. However, Chillingworth, a man who has been living with the devils for one year, does not agree with the Christian system in determining the father of Pearl.

When the reader is first introduced to Chillingworth, he is described as “a white man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized and strange costume,” (56). Hawthorne portrays the Indian society and the Puritan society as two completely separate worlds. This view was shared by the Puritans because they never associated themselves with the people who live in their woods and consider them to be devils. It seems at first that Chillingworth is torn between both worlds because he was once a Christian man who was befriended by the people whom he had once considered almost enemies. His unique arrangement of clothing also shows that Chillingworth is uncertain what type of person he considers himself. One can wonder if Chillingworth realized that everything he thought about the savages was false and that the Puritans may not have liked the savages because they never had a chance to know them. Aside from this, it is clear that Chillingworth will be forced to choose between the life of Christianity which he has always known and the people of nature who have taken care of him for the past year.

The most definite thing that changes about Chillingworth is his purpose for being in town. At first, Chillingworth discusses with Hester his plans to stay in down to find out the man who has done them both wrong. It was only planned to be an act of revenge, so Chillingworth could know the biggest sinner of all. He tells Hester that he plans to become a “man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery,” (70). Yet as time progresses, Chillingworth’s goal becomes more twisted and turns into an obsession so immense that it becomes his only reason for living. Even after Chillingworth is almost certain that Dimmesdale is the father, he does not let the issue rest. Instead, he becomes dedicated to ruining Dimmesdale’s life. This passion takes over Chillingworth’s life. Soon, it is the only thing that is keeping him alive. By living with Dimmesdale and the fact that Dimmesdale has not confessed, Chillingworth is able to control him and pull him under his spell. This way, Chillingworth will have Dimmesdale suffer for the rest of his life.

Roger Chillingworth’s physical appearance also becomes more deformed as his goal becomes more mutated. Even when Hester sees Chillingworth while she is on the scaffold in the very beginning, she notices that one shoulder of his rose higher than the other. “It was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne that one of this man’s shoulders rose higher than the other,” (57). Throughout the novel, Chillingworth becomes more hunched over, closer to the ground, as he becomes eviler. Perhaps, on one shoulder, there is an angel and on the other, there is a devil. The shoulder with the devil is becoming overpowering and is close to his ear so that the devil can also control his mind and his actions. Though this may not have been Hawthorne’s intention, it could explain why he becomes close to the ground, which is close to nature; at the same time, he becomes more savage like, more like the devil.

In addition, Chillingworth’s sinking towards the ground brings him closer to death and closer to hell, because the devil is taking over him. Hester even refers to the devil when she questions him by calling him the Black Man, who was the devil’s messenger. “Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the forest round us? Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?” (72), she asked. Chillingworth responds with a smile saying “Not thy soul. No, not thine!” (72). In a way, Hester gives Chillingworth the idea of ruining the life of Pearl’s father. This can be used to foreshadow events such as Chillingworth moving in with Dimmesdale. When Dimmesdale becomes sick and Chillingworth moves in with him, Dimmesdale is deceived and believes that Chillingworth is there to help him. However, Chillingworth has a secret motive to ruin the life of Dimmesdale. This plan works because the longer that Chillingworth lives with Dimmesdale, the more Dimmesdale becomes more sick and ill, and physically more like Chillingworth. This ultimately leads to the death of Dimmesdale.

Once Dimmesdale has died, Chillingworth has no reason to live. The only reason that he lived was to ruin Dimmesdale’s life and have him suffer. The townspeople even agree that Chillingworth was to blame for Dimmesdale’s death. When the engraved ‘A’ on Dimmesdale’s chest was discovered, the townspeople claimed it was because of Chillingworth. They said that he was a “potent necromancer, had caused it to appear, through the agency of magic and poisonous drugs,” (230). Now that Dimmesdale has died, Chillingworth has lost his purpose of living. As a result, he dies with the year.

Roger Chillingworth is the most evolved character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. At first, Chillingworth comes to town, under a false name and profession, and seeks the name of the man who has done both Hester and Roger wrong. Then, after he learns that Revered Arthur Dimmesdale, the holiest man of them all, is the father of Pearl, he continues to break down the barriers of this man, and get into his soul. Chillingworth physically becomes more hunch over, the more that his focus becomes less clear. Also, his use of herbs in his remedies and outrageous medical ideas show that Chillingworth is unlike most people in Puritan society. He becomes more in touch with his savage, and devilish side with the more effort that he puts into ruining Dimmesdale’s life. He uses the excuse that though Hester has committed sin, Dimmesdale has done an even larger sin because he did both Hester and Chillingworth wrong. However, in reality, it is Roger Chillingworth who has committed the greatest sin of all.

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