The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a novel about adultery committed by young Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale in the Puritan world of seventeenth century Boston. Even though, they share the relationship of extremely opposing each other throughout the book, Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth, an alchemist, antagonist, and Hester’s husband, are different and similar in appearance, respect, and how they change throughout the novel.
Chillingworth and Dimmesdale come from very different backgrounds, but both are still respected and educated men. Chillingworth has “learning and intelligence and possesses more than a common nature,” because he is “extensively acquainted with the medieval science of the day” (pg.109). The colony believes that “Roger Chillingworth is a brilliant acquisition;” he is “an absolute miracle, Doctor of Physics, from a German University” (pg.111). Not many Puritan citizens in the colony possess a college education. The skills, that Chillingworth possesses makes “this learned stranger exemplary” and he is now “known to be a man of skill” (pg.111). On the other hand, “Reverend Dimmesdale; a young clergyman,” who had come from a “great English University,” and also possessed great skill” (pg.62). Dimmesdale “has eloquence and fervor,” which gives him the “earnest of high eminence in his profession” of ministry (pg.62). Being a priest brings a degree of respect; Dimmesdale is believed to be a “true priest, a true religionist, ’a little less than an ordained apostle” (pg.113). The colony praises Dimmesdale and hopes he would “do as great deed…for the New England Church as early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith” (pg.110).
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Many changes occur in a person over time. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale both sin and are mentally distraught by their sins. Dimmesdale commits adultery with Chillingworth’s wife; Chillingworth seeks vengeance and indirectly kill Dimmesdale. In the beginning of the novel, Chillingworth’s “expression had been calm, meditative, a scholar like,” after frequently sinning, “there was something evil in his face” which grows “still the more obvious to sight” (pg.118). Sin controls Chillingworth so much he starts “transforming himself into a devil, in a reasonable space of time, he will undertake the devil’s office” (pg.154).
One thing that is a very obvious contrast in the novel is the initial appearance of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth is deformed because “one of the men’s shoulders rose higher than the other” (pg.109). However, Dimmesdale is “a person of aspect, white, lofty, and impending, large brown, melancholy eyes and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it was apt to be tremulous” (pg.109). Dimmesdale is very attractive and healthy-looking; Chillingworth is a “man elderly and travel-worn” and he does not compare to Dimmesdale (pg.159).
Dimmesdale progresses through a more vulnerable change rather than an evil change like Chillingworth. Dimmesdale begins to look like an “emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain wrinkled brow” (pg.199) because Chillingworth “dug into the poor clergyman’s heart, like a miner searching to gold, possibly in a quest for a jewel that had been burned in the dead man’s bosom,” to seek revenge (pg.119). Even citizens of the colony feel the change in Dimmesdale. Chillingworth started to believe “Reverend Dimmesdale is haunted by either Satan himself, or Satan’s emissary” (pg.117).
Chillingworth and Dimmesdale sins eventually led to their fates. Both men compare and contrast in many different areas including sin, appearance, and overall attitude. Both men seemed to have a good argument but neither came out on top. Their characters are very unique and contribute to the suspense of The Scarlet Letter. They were important characters throughout the novel, and served their purposes as rivaling forces in the novel.
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