Roger Chillingworth is evil—this much Nathaniel 2.0 has made clear. Currently, he is plotting “a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy.” That’s an overstatement if I ever heard one.
Chillingworth is playing cruel mind games on the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whose BS radar short circuits every time he so much as glances his doctor. The reverend tries to ignore this unsettling feeling because he doesn’t have any hard evidence to justify it, so there’s no doubt he’d be the first victim in a horror movie. Apparently, Chillingworth’s diabolical smiles/erratic behavior/speculation from the entire town that he has a nine-to-five in the underworld do NOT constitute hard evidence.
Dimmesdale’s guilt is starting to show through his perfectly symmetrical features. He has resting grimace face. These qualities are 10/10 on the Puritan dating checklist, so the more somber and ashamed he appears on the pulpit, the more his congregation falls in love with him. All the Mrs. Bennet-types in town are eager to marry off their daughters, “the virgins of his church grow pale around him,” and people are buying land around his grave plot so they can hitch a ride on his soul caboose when he dies and goes to heaven. In conclusion, this escalated quickly.
Meanwhile, Dimmesdale probably scribbles in his notebook:
I’m going to hell. It was nice knowing everyone, especially Hester in the biblical sense.
Every day he hallucinates about marching up to the pulpit, striking a power pose, and confessing that he is “utterly a pollution and a lie,” which isn’t inaccurate. And he does actually pseudo-confess at one point:
He had told his hearers that he was altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable iniquity; and that the only wonder was, that they did not see his wretched body shrivelled up before their eyes, by the burning wrath of the Almighty! Could there be plainer speech than this?
Answer: Yes, definitely.
The congregants respond: “If this Puritan precursor to an A-list celeb thinks HIS soul is an abomination, then what HORRID SPECTACLE is MINE?” (In so many words.) Dimmesdale knows he’s buying a one-way ticket to purgatory by not explicitly confessing to the crime, but he’s holding back because he thinks the knowledge will lead his congregation morally astray.
Next, instead of using reliable stress-release tactics like writing a pros and cons list or consulting a psychic, he starts to do real harm to his body. He fasts. He hallucinates. He stays awake for days. He hallucinates some more. It’s unpleasant for all of us, and it’s making him more weathered and existential by the minute:
To the untrue man, the whole universe is false,—it is impalpable,—it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist.
In the middle of the night, Dimmesdale gets an idea. He quickly dresses in his customary potato sack and walks out the door.
Chapter 12: The Minister’s Vigil
Likely sleep walking, Dimmesdale heads through town towards the scaffold, which I’m now realizing has to be a symbol at this point. More on that later. He climbs up onto it, and “overcome with a great horror of mind” cries out into the darkness. For a minute there he’s SURE he’s just woken the entire town with the outburst, but it’s nbd because the select few who did wake up blame it on
the noise of witches; whose voices, at that period, were often heard to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages, as they rode with Satan through the air.
It’s all good! It’s just the witches.
All of a sudden, Dimmesdale sees someone from a distance moving toward him with a lantern. When he realizes it’s Reverend Wilson who’s probs on his way back from a certain Governor Winthrop’s deathbed, he says OUT LOUD: “A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson! Come up hither, I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour with me!”
Nathaniel 2.0: Jk jk jk he said it in his head.
Wilson walks right by the scaffold. Remember, it’s pitch black out. Dimmesdale imagines the townspeople looking at him up there with “amazed and horror-stricken visages.” He chuckles to himself at this image, and I want desperately to think he has a sense of humor, but it’s probably because he’s been awake for 72 hours.
Dimmesdale is shocked when his laugh is met with another laugh, as am I. No, it’s not the Town Beadle as I’d hoped; it’s PEARL and it is definitely past her bedtime. She and Hester are on their way home from taking measurements of Governor Winthrop’s corpse so that she can embroider his funeral garb. Dimmesdale invites the pair up on the scaffold and they join hands in a Kodak moment:
There came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins […] The three formed an electric chain.
Not only is this my favorite sentence so far, but the diary entry from when I held my first official SO’s hand on the scaffolds of middle school (the bleachers).
Youtube / NBC
Pearl asks if Dimmesdale can join she and Hester on the scaffold the following day at noon. He says he’s busy tomorrow but can definitely reschedule for Judgement Day. Classic dad joke. Without warning, a giant meteor illuminates the sky and Dimmesdale thinks he sees a red letter A written in the clouds. To be honest, this seems self-absorbed.
Pearl points across the street, which is brightened for a brief minute under the light of the meteor, and Dimmesdale knows at whom she’s pointing before he even looks. Nope, still not the Town Beadle—it’s Chillingworth, standing there like a Lion King hyena, looking on with the pleasure of Satan if all the wasted souls of the earth were being cast into hell before him. Dimmesdale feels “overcome with terror,” as he obviously should.
Dimmesdale: Psst, Hester. Who is Chillingworth? I mean, who is he ACTUALLY Hester: Pearl: I KNOW WHO HE IS Dimmesdale: Who? Pearl: Jk Dimmesdale: Are you kidding me Pearl: Nope Chillingworth: Mr. Dimmesdale! You must be sleep walking. Let me take you home. Dimmesdale: How did you know I was out here? Chillingworth: Oh, I didn’t! I was with Governor Winthrop as he shuffled off his mortal coil. You seem off tonight—let me take you home. Dimmesdale: Ok! Btw you are my living nightmare and I’m trembling in absolute horror.
I just want to draw your attention to the fact that Chillingworth makes no comment on the situation he just walked into, which is Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale HOLDING HANDS on the SCAFFOLD in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT under a METEOR SHOWER.
After church the next day, a groundskeeper tells Dimmesdale that he found one of his preacher’s gloves on the scaffold, and that
Satan dropped it there, I take it.*
He also informs his minister that there’s a rumor going around about a red A that appeared in the sky last night, and that it means Governor Winthrop has become an Angel.
Dimmesdale wipes off his sweat mustache and leaves.
The one person who for sure hears Dim’s outcry in the night is Governor Bellingham’s witchy sister. She opens her window, looks around, sees nothing in the dark, and then disappears. To where? “Possibly, she went up among the clouds.” That is a direct quote.
Yes, the scaffold is totally a symbol—Hester serves her time atop it in public; Dimmesdale is there at night such that no one can spot him EXCEPT the three people who know of his crime: Hester, Pearl, mhm: Chillingworth.
*Me when someone finds me with something I borrowed without permission.
The plot is thickening. Who besides myself is on Team Pearl?
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