Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Revenge

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Revenge

Chapter 11

The intellect of Roger Chillingworth had now a sufficiently plain path before it. It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had laid out for himself to tread. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate old man, which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy. (11.1)

Hester is paying a hefty price for her crime, but public shaming and repentance is different from the "intimate revenge" that Chillingworth is planning. Wearing a scarlet letter is apparently appropriate revenge for a community to take; but psychologically torturing a man to death? That's taking things a little too far.

Chapter 12

Certainly, if the meteor kindled up the sky, and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgment, then might Roger Chillingworth have passed with them for the arch-fiend, standing there, with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So vivid was the expression, or so intense the minister's perception of it, that it seemed still to remain painted on the darkness, after the meteor had vanished, with an effect as if the street and all things else were at once annihilated. (12.34)

Who needs a flashlight when you've got the incredibly creepy face of a vengeful demon to light up the night? And we're not talking nice vengeance demons, either. We're talking a human man who's been so corrupted by his pursuit of personal vindication that he's no better than the devil himself.

Chapter 14
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale

"What evil have I done the man?" asked Roger Chillingworth again. "I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the richest fee that ever physician earned from monarch could not have bought such care as I have wasted on this miserable priest! But for my aid, his life would have burned away in torments, within the first two years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. For, Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could have borne up, as thine has, beneath a burden like thy scarlet letter. O, I could reveal a goodly secret! But enough! What art can do, I have exhausted on him. That he now breathes, and creeps about on earth, is owing all to me!" (14.16)

Okay, well, that's one way to look at it: Chillingworth's vengeful attention has actually kept Dimmesdale alive. But, considering that he's made the poor guy's life a living hell, that might not be something to brag about.

"What choice had you?" asked Roger Chillingworth. "My finger, pointed at this man, would have hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon, —thence, peradventure, to the gallows!" (14.14)

We know that Chillingworth could have gotten revenge by making sure that Dimmesdale was thrown in prison or hanged (really?), but he doesn't. Why? What makes this psychological revenge so much sweeter?

"Yea, woman, thou sayest truly!" cried old Roger Chillingworth, letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze out before her eyes. "Better had he died at once! Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy! He has been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwelling always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some spiritual sense,—for the Creator never made another being so sensitive as this,—he knew that no friendly hand was pulling at his heart-strings, and that an eye was looking curiously into him, which sought only evil, and found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence!—the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged! —and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed!—he did not err!—there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment!" (14.18)

Whoa, Rog. Take a chill pill. This guy has evidently never heard that revenge is a dish best served cold, because it's been seven years and he's still ticked off. The problem? Making revenge your reason to live isn't great for your longevity.

"I have left thee to the scarlet letter," replied Roger Chillingworth. "If that have not avenged me, I can do no more!" (14.25)

Hmm. Chillingworth is obsessed with taking personal revenge on Dimmesdale, but he lets the community revenge itself on Hester. Does this mean that, deep down, he still loves her? Is wearing the scarlet letter worse than being secretly persecuted? Or is Chillingworth just not all that evil, after all? (Nah. We're pretty sure he's that evil.)

Chapter 17
Hester Prynne

"Thou shalt forgive me!" cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside [Dimmesdale]. "Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!" (17.18).

When Dimmesdale finds out that Chillingworth's mental manipulation is all part of a twisted plot to seek revenge on his wife's lover, he not too happy. Okay, maybe it's not as bad as adultery, but it's still a major betrayal. But he decides to listen to Hester and leave the vengeance to God. It's too bad Chillingworth didn't come up with the same plan.

Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale

"[…] 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.

Chapter 23
Roger Chillingworth

"Thou hast escaped me!" [Chillingworth] repeated more than once. "Thou hast escaped me!"

"May God forgive thee!" said the minister. "Thou, too, hast deeply sinned!" (23.28-29)

By now, the whole "I'm gonna get you" shtick that Chillingworth has been playing with for the last seven years seems to be less about exactly a well-deserved revenge than about playing some sort of sick cat-and-mouse game. Check out the word "escaped": Dimmesdale is going to expose his sin and die, but that's still not enough. The revenge has to be personal.

Chapter 24

At old Roger Chillingworth's decease (which took place within the year), and by his last will and testament, of which Governor Bellingham and the Reverend Mr. Wilson were executors, he bequeathed a very considerable amount of property, both here and in England, to little Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne. (24.6)

Is this Roger Chillingworth's final, twisted act of revenge—a way of haunting Hester and Pearl? Or is it just a (very nice) apology?