The Scarlet Letter Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter is the story of Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman who has had an illegitimate child. Despite being publicly humiliated by wearing a large scarlet letter 'A' on her dress, Hester refuses to reveal the identity of her child's father, even as the vindictive newcomer Chillingworth becomes determined to make her confess. This story explores the themes of sexual liberation, sin, and vengeance.

Chapter 9 Summary

Brief Summary

In this chapter, Roger Chillingworth is the focus, as it describes what he has been up to in the years since he arrived in the settlement to find Hester sitting on the scaffold. He becomes a well respected town doctor. Thought to be the best in Boston, he is asked to look after Dimmesdale, who is ill. The two men become very close and even move into the same boarding house. At first everyone is certain that the arrangement is the best for Dimmesdale's hopes, but as time passes the group of people who mistrust Chillingworth grows, and some people come to the conclusion that Chillingworth is allowing the forces of evil to work on their beloved minister.

Detailed Summary

In this chapter, Roger Chillingworth is the focus, as it describes what he has been up to in the years since he arrived in the settlement to find Hester sitting on the scaffold. Deciding that there would be no benefit in claiming his true identity as Hester's husband, he decides to take a new identity, using his vast learning to become a village doctor. He is much respected and known, and the people recognize his incomparable ability and knowledge. He was trained in Europe and has since expanded his knowledge with cures he picked up from the Native Americans and thus a perfect addition to the settlement.

Dimmesdale, who seems to be ill, and getting a little weaker every day, is urged by the townspeople to ask for Chillingworth's medical guidance. Dimmesdale refuses at first, but eventually gives in and Chillingworth becomes his regular physician. The two grow close; Dimmesdale respects Chillingworth and is interested in understanding his view of the world, and Chillingworth wants to look into Dimmesdale's very soul, seeking out the secrets he know are hidden there. Eventually the two move into the same house, so that Chillingworth could give Dimmesdale constant attention. They each have their own side of the house, but visit each other often. Most of Dimmesdale's friends agree that this is the best course of action, but there are some who are suspicious of Chillingworth and feel that any arrangement putting the two so close was a source of trouble, and in fact that the minister's soul might be what was at stake. Eventually the majority opinion comes to be this latter one, that Chillingworth did in fact have some evil intent with regards to Dimmesdale.

Chapter 10 Summary

Brief Summary

Roger Chillingworth's interest in Dimmesdale becomes darker and darker, and a kind of transformation comes over him, and any warmth or purity of spirit that was within him is lost. He becomes convinced that Dimmesdale is hiding something, possibly connected with Hester, and he is determined to find out what it is.

During one of their regular conversations, the topic of confessing one's soul comes up and after much discussion Chillingworth offers to hear anything that Dimmesdale would like to confess. Dimmesdale becomes very angry at the idea of this, and storms out of the room.

The two men become friends again, and one day, when the minister is sleeping in his study, Chillingworth sneaks in and looks at Dimmesdale's chest and finds something that confirms all his suspicions about what Dimmesdale is hiding.

Detailed Summary

Roger Chillingworth's interest in Dimmesdale becomes darker and darker, and a kind of transformation comes over him, and any warmth or purity of spirit that was within him is lost. He becomes convinced that Dimmesdale is hiding something, possibly connected with Hester, and he is determined to find out what it is.

He tries to mask his real intent from Dimmesdale, who, because so suspicious of people normally, is not suspicious of those closest to him. Dimmesdale has a slight feeling of mistrust of the doctor, but since he wishes not to overreact, he puts that feeling aside and grows closer and closer to Chillingworth.

During one of their conversations, they discuss confession, and its benefits. Chillingworth suggests that perhaps some people do not want to confess, and Dimmesdale describes the relief he has seen after people have confessed their sins to him. Chillingworth mentions that some people never confess, and Dimmesdale suggests that the reason for this might be that the person does not see any good that can come from the confession in that person's lifetime. Chillingworth responds that those people are deluding themselves, and Dimmesdale changes the subject.

Hester and Pearl pass near the window, which leads them to discuss whether or not it is better for Hester, who wears the pain and consequence of her sin openly, or for the father, who bears his torment secretly. Chillingworth argues that they experience equal pain, while Dimmesdale believes that Hester is in a better position.

Chillingworth then responds to Dimmesdale's earlier question about if Roger thought he was getting better, or perhaps that their close relationship and constant attention was doing nothing to improve the clergyman's health. Chillingworth tells Dimmesdale that he was not sure if the illness was entirely physical, and suggests that some kind of inner turmoil was causing the physical manifestation of illness. He encourages Dimmesdale to tell him everything that is troubling him. Dimmesdale becomes extremely upset and adamantly refuses to tell Chillingworth anything. He leaves the room angrily, leaving Chillingworth to reflect on the incident.

The two become friends again, after Dimmesdale calms down and realizes that he had overreacted to Chillingworth's comments. Then, soon after, while Dimmesdale is sleeping in his study, Chillingworth sneaks in, looks at Dimmesdale's chest, and experiences horror and delight as he realizes that his hypotheses were correct.

Chapter 9-10 Analysis

These two chapters track Chillingworth's transformation, and detail his relationship with Dimmesdale. His reasons for not claiming his identity as Hester's husband seem logical though selfish, but his attitude toward the situation reveals his even darker purpose. He takes a new name, and finds a place in the community as a doctor in order to position himself close to the object of his revenge. He singles out Dimmesdale, and once he is suspicious of his role in Hester's situation, attaches himself to him with a singleness of purpose that cannot be shaken. The community's love and concern for Dimmesdale works in his favor, and he manipulates the situation and Dimmesdale easily. Dimmesdale, though seemingly humble, is surprised to see his own level of intelligence mirrored in Chillingworth, and feels fortunate to have such a companion. He is also interested in understanding Chillingworth's unique point of view of things, since it is so different from his own. He enters into the relationship, sure of his own strength to maintain himself in it, and keep his own secret, unaware of Chillingworth's ability to uncover the secret with the single purpose to make him suffer.

The community's encouragement of the relationship, followed by its slow understanding of the threat Chillingworth presents, demonstrates Chillingworth's transformation as he is more and more dominated by the idea of revenge. His spiritual downward spiral is reflected physically; though slightly deformed from the beginning he becomes uglier and uglier until the evil inside is practically written on his face. He attempts to hide it from Dimmesdale, who sees it, but convinces himself that it is the result of his imagination. Dimmesdale is so concerned about not letting anyone get close enough to understand his secret, that he allows an enemy into the same position as a friend.

In their conversation about confession, Dimmesdale betrays his reasons for keeping quiet about his secret sin. He has convinced himself that he is remaining quiet for the benefit of his congregation. He believes that he can purge himself of his guilt secretly, without having to lose his position, or tarnish his reputation. He feels as if he is being honest to God, but all the while is lying to himself. Chillingworth's assessment of Dimmesdale's physical condition and his suggestion that it is caused by an illness of the spirit causes Dimmesdale to face the fact of his own dishonesty. He betrays himself to Chillingworth, who just needs to confirm his suspicion by looking at Dimmesdale's chest while he is asleep in his study. Dimmesdale finds that though he can lie to himself, the truth will eventually be uncovered, and he suffers the consequences of secrecy in vain.

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