The Scene of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter

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Chillingworth has the idea that Dimmesdale might be Pearl’s father. They talk about keeping secrets, and Dimmesdale thinks that people who keep their secrets as opposed to revealing them, despite the consequences, are more miserable. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth talk about the justification of keeping one’s sinful secret from the world. Dimmesdale argues that it is more painful than revealing it, but he still understands the thinking behind keeping it a secret. He says that though one who keeps his secret from the world is guilty, he still “possesses a zeal for God’s glory and the well-being of mankind. Perhaps they don’t wish to appear dirty in the eyes of men, so that they can continue to do good and redeem their past sins with future service”. Chillingworth believes that people who think like that are “fooling themselves”. He says that if they desire to serve their fellow men, they should do so by demonstrating the power of conscience. In this scene, Dimmesdale is defending himself to someone whom he thinks is of a friendly nature, and who he doesn’t know knows his secret. Chillingworth openly suggests his disapproval of Dimmesdale’s opinions, saying that people who keep their secrets locked up inside are better off revealing them to the public.

The conversation so clearly applies to the situation at hand. This is the scene where Chillingworth becomes certain of Dimmesdale’s secret, and Dimmesdale has no idea. Maybe if the Minister hadn’t spoken so explicitly, there would have been some room for Chillingworth’s doubt, and maybe he wouldn’t have discovered whatever he saw on Dimmesdale’s chest. Everyone in the novel seems to have taken a different level of Kohlberg’s reasoning. Hester, in keeping the identity of Pearl’s father a secret most resembles level five. She decided not to tell because although it could relieve her of some pain and giver her a companion in her sorrow, it would also hurt Dimmesdale and his reputation, and take away the respect that he receives from the citizens of Boston. This ties into the reason why he doesn’t reveal his secret himself, he uses the level three of Kohlberg’s theory. He feels the need to be accepted by the people of Boston, so much so that he is willing to destroy his mental and physical health to maintain the acceptance. However, Chillingworth’s level of reasoning is much different than that of the other characters. It’s hard for me to pick a level of Kohlberg’s reasoning for Chillingworth, none of them really represent his motives as well as I would have liked. But if I had to pick one, I would chose the sixth level. Though the sixth level of reasoning seems like it is usually a good thing, I suppose it could turn into something terrible as well. For example, when I really think about it, Adolf Hitler could have used level six of Kohlberg’s reasoning to justify his belief in anti-semitism and the Holocaust. If the Chillingworth’s beliefs were not evil: he was trying to destroy something that he believed to be bad, I think that level six best describes his actions.

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I think that Hawthorne wrote the scene the way he did in order to drop hints to the reader of Dimmesdale’s true identity before it was totally apparent. It is also possible that Hawthorne maybe trying to make it even clearer to the reader how obsessed Chillingworth is, or maybe Hawthorne wanted to create some sympathy from the reader for Dimmesdale. I think he could have effectively achieved both, depending on the reader.

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