Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 9

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 9

The Leech

  • And we're back to Roger Chillingworth. Are you feeling a little irritated with him? Well, says the narrator, remember that he came home hoping to find a home and warmth with his wife, only to discover that she is the symbol of sin for the entire town.
  • Gee, maybe you could have called, or at least sent a text message?
  • At least he's a good doctor, combining his knowledge of American Indian herbal medicine and British medicine.
  • And he chooses as his spiritual mentor one Reverend Dimmesdale.
  • Dimmesdale's isn't looking too good, probably because he studies too hard and is a wee bit overly devoted to God.
  • He's thin, tired, and depressed, and often observed to put his hand over his heart, as if he is in pain.
  • Maybe Chillingworth can heal him?
  • Dimmesdale says he doesn't need any medicine, but he eventually agrees to take on Chillingworth as his personal physician.
  • Personal physician? We can't even get a same-day appointment!
  • The two men hang out together, talking about manly things like last night's game and abstruse theological debates.
  • (Quick Brain Snack: the narrator refers to Chillingworth as "the leech," which is just another word for "doctor." Remember, medicine back in these days mostly consisted of killing your patient a little faster through insanely ineffective or dangerous "cures," like bloodletting—which was sometime accomplished with leeches.)
  • Chillingworth decides that he needs to know what's wrong with Dimmesdale before he can help him (duh), so he analyzes him mentally, psychologically, and spiritually as well as physically.
  • But Dimmesdale never reveals his secret.
  • Eventually, Chillingworth hints to Dimmesdale's friends that it would be better if he and Dimmesdale lived together so that he could better assist the minister's health.
  • This is getting a little too Single White Female for our tastes.
  • Since Dimmesdale is unmarried and doesn't seem interested in changing that, living with his physician seems like the perfect solution.
  • In fact, most the congregation thinks it sounds a lot like the hand of God.
  • But not everyone.
  • These doubters feel that Chillingworth has changed since he first came to town. At first, he had appeared like scholar, but now there was something "ugly and evil in his face" (9.17).
  • In fact, some people start to think that Dimmesdale is being haunted and hunted by Satan himself in the guise of Chillingworth.