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The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale Quotes

"We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!" (17.31)

Check out the way that Dimmesdale talks about Chillingworth "violating" the "sanctity of a human heart." To us, that sounds a lot like a type of rape: Chillingworth has psychologically raped Dimmesdale. Which, yeah, that sounds pretty sinful.

"Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him--yea, compel him, as it were--to add hypocrisy to sin?" (3.26)

Irony alert: Dimmesdale is practically begging Hester to reveal his name, so he won't be "compelled" to hide his sin. She sees it at compassion; he sees it as cruel.

"The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience-stricken priest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"

"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it." (17.43-44)

Let's say you've messed up. Really messed up—like, can't-even-talk-about-it messed up. Being forgiven can actually be harder than being punished, because you feel like you deserve something really bad. (Don't believe that it can mess with your head? Just ask this guy.)