The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Dimmesdale awes the crowd with a powerful sermon that predicts Puritan New England will flourish as a chosen land of God. The crowd thinks that Dimmesdale's performance is made even more powerful by the weakness that has once again settled on him and made it clear he was verging on death.
The Puritans think Dimmesdale's sermon is inspired by God, but remain blind to his sin. Meanwhile, Dimmesdale now realizes that he is going to die.
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
After his triumphant sermon, Dimmesdale sees Hester and Pearl in front of the scaffold. He asks them to approach him at the scaffold. Chillingworth warns Dimmesdale not to "blacken" his fame.
This is the third scene on the scaffold. Dimmesdale has gone from denial to secret confession to public confession.
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
On the scaffold, Dimmesdale turns to Hester and says: "Is this not better than what we dreamed of in the forest?" He tells her God is merciful, and begs her to let him take responsibility for his shame. Supported by Hester and Pearl, Dimmesdale turns to the crowd and announces that he is guilty of the same sin for which they have punished Hester. As Chillingworth looks on in despair, Dimmesdale tears away his clothing to reveal a scarlet letter carved into his breast.
By protecting his reputation, Dimmesdale sentenced himself to suffering far worse than the public punishment he would have shared with Hester. By confessing, he escapes the prison he built for himself, and the one Chillingworth built for him.
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Dimmesdale falls to the floor and asks Pearl for a kiss. She kisses him and cries, and narrator says her tears were a pledge that "she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it."
Dimmesdale's confession couldn't save his life, but it does save Pearl. It connects her to humanity by revealing "human joy and sorrow."
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
The Occult Theme Icon
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Hester tells Dimmesdale they will meet again in the afterlife. Though Dimmesdale is not so sure, he dies crying out that God is merciful and thanking Him for putting him through the terrible trials and ordeals that led to this moment, his confession. The watching crowd murmurs in awe.
The Puritan God is a punisher of sin. But by confessing, which none of the hypocritical Puritans do, Dimmesdale discovers the mercy of God and dies content, thankful even for his suffering.
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon