The Scarlet Letter

what do we learn of these characters? who are they? And what is their significance to hester and the story? pearl; Dimmesdale; Chillingsworth

scarlet letter Ch. 1-5

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Roger Chillingworth is introduced here as Hester's husband, but because the story began in medias res (starting in the middle of the action), we did not see whatever early affection there might have been between Hester and Roger. Now, we cannot seem to find the slightest bit of emotion connecting them. Indeed, when Chillingworth appears while Hester is on the scaffold, she seems paralyzed by fear at first. And when Chillingworth demands aloud, "Speak woman, speak and give your child a father!" we suddenly understand just how distant husband and wife now are. We are still putting the pieces of the puzzle together at this point, and we are not sure what Chillingworth's relationship to Hester reayly is—does he want her dead? Does he want the child for himself? Does he know who the adulterer is? Our first priority, as readers, is to determine whether Chillingworth is still in love with Hester. For her part, it seems plain enough that Hester has no carnal feelings remaining for her own husband.

If there is irony implicit in the fact that Chillingworth is demanding Hester to give her child a father—since he should be the father of his wife’s child—it is also ironic that Dimmesdale, the actual father of Pearl, has to keep up his appearances as the town minister who is to try to make Hester confess the name of her child's father. She responds by telling him that she will bear both his and her shame, and that her child will never know her earthly father. Dimmesdale then publicly admits defeat and ceases trying to make Hester tell him the name, leaving the crowd unsettled and leaving Chillingworth with a sordid mission. Later in the novel, once we learn all the secrets that Hester is carrying, we look back at this scene with fond amusement, realizing that all of our main characters are holding back the truth with facades.

Dimmesdale places his hand over his heart in this scene. This gesture will reappear and grow in significance during the novel. In this chapter it is meant to show his distress in failing to confess his own part of the adulterous affair. At the same time, the gesture of the hand over the heart is the same one that Hester makes when she remembers the scarlet letter. Hawthorne brilliantly connects Hester's openly displayed shame with Dimmesdale's secret shame by having both characters touch the spot where the scarlet letter is displayed.