The Scarlet Letter

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Arthur Dimmesdale

There was an air about this young minister, --an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look,---as of a being who felt himself quite astray and at a loss in the pathway of human existence. (Chapter 3)

This quote is the narrator’s initial description of Arthur Dimmesdale. It highlights how the minister is timid, vulnerable, and not good at navigating difficult situations. The quote thus foreshadows the way Dimmesdale will mostly lack courage throughout the novel, and will not fully take responsibility for his choices.

Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared. (Chapter 9)

This quote describes how Dimmesdale fails to see that Chillingworth is up to no good until it is too late. Dimmesdale’s guilt leads him to cut himself off from human contact but it also makes him more naïve. His poor judgement allows Chillingworth to exploit his vulnerabilities and torment him.

His intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural activity by the prick and anguish of daily life. (Chapter 11)

This quote describes how Dimmesdale’s inner torment actually makes him a more effective minister. Because he is always feeling guilty and ashamed, he is more sensitive and aware of what is happening around him. To the people of Boston, he seems particularly holy, which is ironic considering the hypocrisy and secrecy Dimmesdale displays.

Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self! (Chapter 11)

This quote describes the disgust Dimmesdale feels because he is a liar and a hypocrite. He likes honesty and wishes he could be open and truthful, but his fear of being socially ostracized prevents him from telling the truth. Dimmesdale lives years tormented by self-loathing, and it gradually destroys his health, leading to his death at the end of the novel.

Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! (Chapter 17)

Dimmesdale speaks these lines to Hester as he contrasts the different ways they both have experienced the consequences of their affair. It may seem that Hester is the one who is suffering more because she is isolated and abused by the community, while Dimmesdale is well-respected and loved. However, Dimmesdale thinks she is better off, because she is not living a lie.

At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing. (Chapter 20)

This quote occurs after Dimmesdale has decided that he is going to run away with Hester and shows the effect of this decision on his personality. After years of being repressed and reserved, Dimmesdale now feels liberated and has the urge to start breaking all the rules that have controlled him for so long. The quote shows how Dimmesdale swings wildly between extremes, and does not show very good judgement.

At last—at last---I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood. (Chapter 23)

Dimmesdale speaks these words in the novel’s final scene when he stands on the scaffold next to Hester and Pearl, and finally takes responsibility for his past action. He acknowledges that he has delayed owning his past sin, and implies he has left Hester to suffer alone. Even though he is about to die, Dimmesdale uses the final moments of his life to try and redeem himself.