Essay on The Scarlet Letter - The Plot Analysis


In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth tortures Hester and Dimmesdale because of their betrayal through symbolism, plot, and diction.

First, Hawthorne shows the purpose this torture through symbolism. Throughout the novel, Chillingworth increasingly starts to represent evil and the devil. “I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in books… I shall see him tremble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!” (68). From the minute the reader meets him, he is filled with vengeance. Revenge is immoral from a biblical standpoint, especially when it starts to consume someone. A religious person doesn’t want revenge, they want to forgive; but that thought never crosses Chillingworth’s mind. He also physically changes to look more demonic. “...what a change had come over his features,-how much uglier they were,-how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen...” (103). His body is disfigured, and he looks darker. Now not only does he spiritually look like the devil, he physically looks like him too. 

Hawthorne also uses plot to show Chillingworth’s revenge. Over the course of the novel, the reader watches Dimmesdale become increasingly weaker after Chillingworth becomes his doctor. “His form grew emaciated; his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it…” (111). Instead of outing Dimmesdale, he is punishing him and slowly killing him. When a band aid is ripped off, going slowly makes it more painful that ripping it faster. Chillingworth is making Dimmesdale’s death as slow and painful as possible because he wants him to suffer. 

Finally, Hawthorne shows Chillingworth’s torture through diction. When he becomes Dimmesdale’s doctor, he is called a leech. “For the sake of the minister’s health, and to enable the leech to gather plants with healing balm in them…” (114). A leech is a parasitic worm that latches onto the skin and sucks the blood out of its host. Not only was it a common treatment in the nineteenth century, but it was a common name for a doctor or healer. Hawthorne could have chosen to just call him a doctor, but the word leech is used instead. Chillingworth is literally sucking the life out of Dimmesdale. 

Using symbolism, plot, and diction in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne shows how Chillingworth punishes Hester and Dimmesdale for their betrayal. At the end of the story, Dimmesdale dies, so Chillingworth got what he wanted. However, Chillingworth ends up dying not long after, so he paid the price for his sin too. Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”.

 

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