Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 23

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 23

The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter

  • Dimmesdale is really going to town on the subject of his sermon, which is God's relationship to human communities.
  • It's almost like he's a prophet—or like he's about to die.
  • Sermon over, the music starts again and the procession heads off to the town hall where they're going to have a banquet.
  • Meanwhile, Dimmesdale is looking pretty ragged. He's not glowing like a saint; he looks a lot more like a man near death.
  • Reverend John Wilson tries to help him, but Dimmesdale pushes him away to walk to the scaffold, where Hester's standing.
  • And now it starts to get crazy.
  • Dimmesdale tells Hester and Pearl to come stand next to him.
  • Pearl runs up right away, but Hester hangs back.
  • Chillingworth butts in, telling the minister to save himself and cast off the woman and child.
  • Nothing doing: Dimmesdale says that he should have done this seven years ago.
  • Everyone's getting a little agitated now, especially when Hester puts her arm around Dimmesdale and helps him up to the scaffold.
  • Up there, he starts talking: everyone's horrified by Hester's sin, but there's someone else they should be horrified by.
  • Who could it possibly be?
  • Oh, yeah: him.
  • And, just before he collapses, he tears open his shirt to show the mark on his chest.
  • Chillingworth is all, "Curses! Foiled again!" because Dimmesdale has managed to escape his revenge.
  • And Dimmesdale digs his claws in a little deeper by saying that he sure hopes God will forgive Chillingworth, since he's also sinned.
  • Now that Dimmesdale has confessed, Pearl feels sorry for him. She kisses him, and it makes her into a woman. (But not in a creepy way, we promise.)
  • Will he and Hester meet again?
  • Eh, probably not, he says. After all, they have broken the law and sinned. God is merciful and all, but probably not so merciful that he'll let them be together in the afterlife.
  • Still, they've both suffered and confessed, so let God's will be done.
  • And those are Dimmesdale's last words.

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