The deterioration of his well-being is part

The powerful force of guilt has the ability to destroy a person vulnerable enough to feel it. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Arthur Dimmesdale is a respected minister, father, and an unexpected sinner. Dimmesdale fears that the townspeople who respect him will uncover his sin of adultery with Prynne. The guilt experienced by Reverend Dimmesdale is stronger than any punishment he will endure. The deterioration of his health, the frequent practices of fasts and vigils, and the newfound eagerness and devotion to study is clear evidence of stress from the guilt of his sins. The deterioration of Dimmesdale’s health is one factor that confirms the severity of his guilt. Weeks after Hester Prynne’s public punishment, Dimmesdale’s well-being began to quickly decline. Hawthorne states, “…his cheek was paler and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before, -when it had now become a constant habit, rather than a casual gesture, to press his hand over his heart?” (82) The chest pains he is experiencing suggests a heart condition likely caused from the guilt and stress Dimmesdale puts upon himself. When he is offered medical help from Roger Chillingworth, a physician, Dimmesdale refuses. Hawthorne alludes to the idea that Dimmesdale believes the deterioration of his well-being is part of God’s plan and consequences of his sin. Dimmesdale is persuaded to seek Chillingworth’s help, and the physician notices that his patient seems to be hiding something that is eating away at his soul. When Chillingworth speaks with Dimmesdale, he tries to pry information out of the reserved minister, but fails nevertheless. In contrast to Hester Prynne’s punishment, her public shame is less severe than the harsh guilt of Dimmesdale. Prynne may be publicly humiliated, but she is a healthy young woman. By keeping his secret, Dimmesdale receives no shame by the townspeople, but his conscience brings on self-induced suffering. The guilt that Arthur Dimmesdale is harshly punishing himself with will inevitably lead to a tragic end.

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