Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 10

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 10

The Leech and his Patient

  • Before the whole adultery fiasco, the narrator tells us, Roger Chillingworth was a pretty nice guy.
  • And all he wanted was to find out the truth.
  • But the quest to find it has warped him. He's desperate. He trusts no one, but he can't recognize his enemies, either.
  • One day, Dimmesdale asks Chillingworth where he found a certain herb. Oh, on a grave, of course: "They grew out of [the dead person's] heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him, and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime" (10.8).
  • Maybe, Dimmesdale suggests, the man wanted to confess but could not. He says that the idea that the weeds sprang from a secret is unbiblical—definitely just Chillingworth's invention. Nobody will fear telling their secrets when they're dying, because in heaven, at judgment's gate, they will face the solution to the problem of sin.
  • Okay, says Chillingworth, so why don't people solve the problem on earth by confessing?
  • Most people do, answers Dimmesdale, and they feel a lot better afterward.
  • While he speaks, he grabs his chest as though he feels a sudden pain.
  • Dimmesdale suggests that some men, however, keep their sins secret because if they confess, they will never again be able to do good for God.
  • Chillingworth is just claiming that these men are fooling themselves, when Pearl laughs.
  • Hm, wonder what Dimmesdale's secret is?
  • The men look out the window and see Hester and her child passing by.
  • Pearl is fixing burrs along the lines of the scarlet A. She doesn't pick them out, even though that's got to hurt.
  • Chillingworth looks down at the cute little kid playing with her mom and declares that she's evil. Obvs.
  • The child looks up and throws a burr at Dimmesdale, who shrinks from being hit by it.
  • Hester looks up, and the four individuals look at each other. That's when Pearl yells, "Come away, mother! Come away, or yonder old Black Man will catch you! He has got hold of the minister already. Come away, mother, or he will catch you! But he cannot catch little Pearl!" (10.22).
  • After that… chilling little exchange, the men keep talking.
  • Does Dimmesdale think Hester is relieved from her burden of sin by the scarlet A?
  • He does.
  • Has Dimmesdale held anything back from Chillingworth?
  • He hasn't. And he's had just about enough of these questions, saying that Chillingworth doesn't deal in "medicine for the soul" (10.34).
  • But a sickness has indeed taken over Dimmesdale's spirit and manifests itself physically. If Dimmesdale doesn't reveal the source of evil that disturbs him, how can he expect Chillingworth to heal him?
  • No way: Dimmesdale isn't going to reveal his spiritual wounds to an "earthly physician," but only to a "Physician of the soul," i.e., Christ.
  • Hmm. Chillingworth reflects silently that the minister is so passionate, it's easy to see how he might have done a "wild thing" due to the "hot passion of his heart" (10.38).
  • After this little fight, the two men make up. And not too long afterwards, Dimmesdale falls asleep while reading a book.
  • Chillingworth enters the room and opens the minister's shirt to look at his chest.
  • Ah-ha! There, he sees everything he needs to know.
  • And, the narrator says, if anybody wants to see what Satan looks like in his moment of joy, he would need look no further than Chillingworth's dance as he leaves the room.

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