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The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale Quotes

"Else, I should long ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, and have shown myself to mankind as they will see me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am!" (17.18)

We're trying to feel sorry for Dimmesdale; really, we are. But here, he's basically saying, "Oh, Hester, you're so lucky that you get to be ostracized by your entire community. Look at poor me, having to keep it a secret and live a blameless, honored life." We're impressed that Hester manages not to throw her sewing basket at his head.

"[…] 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!" (17.21)

We imagine Chillingworth's Evil To-Do List goes something like this: (1) Maniacally stroke cat; (2) Violate sanctity of human heart.

"Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee, and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him—who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself—the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!" (3.26)

The problem with being a woman in these pre-birth control days—well, one of the many problems—is that secret adultery can quickly become very public pregnancy. Irony alert: the man saying this to Hester is Dimmesdale, whose ignominy (shame) is not open. By the end of the novel, we find out that it would have been better for him if it had been open. (Although probably not in the Junior kind of way.)