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The Scarlet Letter

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“Perchance,” said Mr. Dimmesdale, “he earnestly desired it, but could not.” “Maybe,” said Mr. Dimmesdale, “he truly wanted to confess but could not.”
“And wherefore?” rejoined the physician. “Wherefore not; since all the powers of nature call so earnestly for the confession of sin, that these black weeds have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest an unspoken crime?” “And why?” replied the physician. “Why not, since all the powers of nature wanted the sin to be confessed, so much so that these black weeds sprung up out of a buried heart to reveal the hidden crime?”
“That, good Sir, is but a fantasy of yours,” replied the minister. “There can be, if I forebode aright, no power, short of the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether by uttered words, or by type or emblem, the secrets that may be buried with a human heart. The heart, making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy Writ, as to understand that the disclosure of human thoughts and deeds, then to be made, is intended as a part of the retribution. That, surely, were a shallow view of it. No; these revelations, unless I greatly err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual satisfaction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting, on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made plain. A knowledge of men’s hearts will be needful to the completest solution of that problem. And I conceive, moreover, that the hearts holding such miserable secrets as you speak of will yield them up, at that last day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable.” “That, good sir, is only a fantasy of yours,” replied the minister. “As far as I can tell, only divine mercy, either through spoken words or some kind of sign, can reveal the secrets buried in the human heart. The heart, once guilty of keeping such secrets, must hold them until the day when all that is hidden will be revealed. And, according to my reading and interpretation of Holy Scripture, the final disclosure of such thoughts and deeds is not going to be part of our punishment. Surely, that would be a shallow way to look at it. No, these revelations, unless I am quite mistaken, are merely meant to satisfy the minds of the intelligent beings who will watch on that final day to see the problems of this earthly life made plain. These beings will need to know men’s hearts so that they can completely understand this world. And furthermore, I believe that the hearts holding such miserable secrets won’t be reluctant to give them up on the last day, but will do so with unspeakable joy.”
“Then why not reveal them here?” asked Roger Chillingworth, glancing quietly aside at the minister. “Why should not the guilty ones sooner avail themselves of this unutterable solace?” “Then why not reveal it here?” asked Roger Chillingworth, glancing quietly at the minister. “Why shouldn’t the guilty ones enjoy this unspeakable relief sooner?”
“They mostly do,” said the clergyman, griping hard at his breast, as if afflicted with an importunate throb of pain. “Many, many a poor soul hath given its confidence to me, not only on the death-bed, but while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And ever, after such an outpouring, O, what a relief have I witnessed in those sinful brethren! even as in one who at last draws free air, after long stifling with his own polluted breath. How can it be otherwise? Why should a wretched man, guilty, we will say, of murder, prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart, rather than fling it forth at once, and let the universe take care of it!” “Most of them do,” said the minister, gripping his breast hard as though suffering a sharp pain. “Many poor souls have confided in me—not just the ones on their deathbeds, but also those in the prime of life and enjoying a good reputation. And always, after a great outpouring, those sinful brothers are so relieved! It’s as if they’re finally able to breathe fresh air after having suffocated on their own polluted breath. How could it be any other way? Why would a sick man—someone guilty of murder, for example—prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart, rather than tossing it out for the universe to care for?”
“Yet some men bury their secrets thus,” observed the calm physician. “And still, some men do bury their secrets,” observed the calm doctor.
“True; there are such men,” answered Mr. Dimmesdale. “But, not to suggest more obvious reasons, it may be that they are kept silent by the very constitution of their nature. Or,—can we not suppose it?—guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for God’s glory and man’s welfare, they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.” “True, there are such men,” answered Mr. Dimmesdale. “Not to be too obvious, but maybe it’s in their very natures to remain silent. Or suppose that, guilty as they are, they still possess 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. So, to their own unspeakable torture, they walk among their fellow creatures looking as pure as the new-fallen snow. And all the while, their hearts are spotted and stained with a sin they can’t get rid of.”
“These men deceive themselves,” said Roger Chillingworth, with somewhat more emphasis than usual, and making a slight gesture with his forefinger. “They fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to them. Their love for man, their zeal for God’s service,—these holy impulses may or may not coexist in their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt has unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate a hellish breed within them. But, if they seek to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward their unclean hands! If they would serve their fellow-men, let them do it by making manifest the power and reality of conscience, in constraining them to penitential self-abasement! Wouldst thou have me to believe, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can be better—can be more for God’s glory, or man’s welfare—than God’s own truth? Trust me, such men deceive themselves!” “These men are fooling themselves,” said Roger Chillingworth, using a little more emphasis than usual and making a slight gesture with his index finger. “They are afraid to own up to the shame that is rightfully theirs. They may possess a holy love for mankind and keep a desire to serve God in their hearts, but their hearts might also invite evil impulses that breed hellish thoughts. If they seek to glorify God, don’t let them lift their unclean hands to Heaven! If they wish to serve their fellow men, let them do it by demonstrating the power of conscience, which forces them to shamefully repent! Would you have me believe, my wise and pious friend, that a false act is better—can do more for God’s glory, or the welfare of mankind—than God’s own truth? Believe me, men who say that are fooling themselves!”
“It may be so,” said the young clergyman indifferently, as waiving a discussion that he considered irrelevant or unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed, of escaping from any topic that agitated his too sensitive and nervous temperament.—“But, now, I would ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, in good sooth, he deems me to have profited by his kindly care of this weak frame of mine?” “That may be so,” said the young minister, indifferently, as though dismissing a discussion he felt was irrelevant or inappropriate. He could skillfully avoid any topic that bothered his nervous temperament. “But now I would ask, my skillful doctor, whether you truly think my weak body has benefited from your kind care?”
Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard the clear, wild laughter of a young child’s voice, proceeding from the adjacent burial-ground. Looking instinctively from the open window,—for it was summer-time,—the minister beheld Hester Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed the inclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the day, but was in one of those moods of perverse merriment which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact. She now skipped irreverently from one grave to another; until, coming to the broad flat, armorial tombstone of a departed worthy,—perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself,—she began to dance upon it. In reply to her mother’s command and entreaty that she would behave more decorously, little Pearl paused to gather the prickly burrs from a tall burdock, which grew beside the tomb. Taking a handful of these, she arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter that decorated the maternal bosom, to which the burrs, as their nature was, tenaciously adhered. Hester did not pluck them off. Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard the distinct, wild laughter of a young child coming from the nearby graveyard. The minister looked instinctively out the window—it was summer, so the window was open—and saw Hester Prynne and little Pearl passing along the footpath that surrounded the yard. Pearl looked as lovely as the day itself. But she was in one of her perverse moods that seemed to remove her entirely from the world of human sympathy. She skipped irreverently from one grave to another until she came to the broad, flat tombstone of an eminent man—perhaps Isaac Johnson himself! She began to dance on top of it. Her mother told her to behave respectfully. In response, little Pearl stopped to pick the prickly burrs from a plant that grew beside the grave. She took a handful and arranged them around the scarlet letter that decorated her mother’s bosom. The burrs, as is their nature, held fast. Hester did not pluck them off.

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