The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Key Questions and Answers

Summary Key Questions and Answers

9) What is Reverend Dimmesdale’s illness?

Reverend Dimmesdale’s illness is psychosomatic, caused by his own shame and self-loathing and by keeping his actions a secret from his community. Over the course of his illness, Reverend Dimmesdale grows emaciated, his voice sounds melancholy, and he often places his hand over his heart. While ill, he seems haunted, depressed, and sullen. As Roger Chillingworth explains, “A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.”