The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter Chapter 12 Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain. (12.17-28)
Whew. Time for a momentary sigh of relief here as we watch Dimmesdale make this fake confession, invigorated by the idea of telling the truth of his relationship with Hester. The word "electric" strikes us as pretty fancy and somehow important. Why do you think the narrator describes the trio as an "electric chain?" (Fun fact: the electric telegraph is still really new at this point, so it's cool to think of these three as forming a telegraph line, passing messages between each other.)
To his features, as to all other objects, the meteoric light imparted a new expression; or it might well be that the physician was not careful then, as at all other times, to hide the malevolence with which he looked upon his victim. (12.33-34)
Bathed in a maybe-supernatural light, Dimmesdale's guilt is momentarily lifted, while Chillingworth just looks plain guilty. And evil.
This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing or another, which intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance. (12.2)
Our Shmoopster brains just can’t help but stare at the phrase "heaven-defying guilt" here—what does that mean? Does it mean that the guilt Dimmesdale endures will ultimately prevent him from getting into heaven? Or does it mean that the guilt he imposes upon himself is not necessarily the kind of guilt that heaven endorses?