The Scarlet Letter

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Arthur Dimmesdale Character Analysis

A well respected Boston reverend who has an affair with Hester Prynne and is the secret father of Pearl. Shy, retiring, and well loved and respected by his public, Dimmesdale is too frightened and selfish to reveal his sin and bear the burden of punishment with Hester. Yet at the same time, Dimmesdale secretly punishes himself for his sin by fasting and whipping himself. Ultimately the suffering and punishment he endures, though self-inflicted, proves far worse than Hester's or Pearl's, suggesting that betrayal and selfishness are greater sins than adultery. Dimmesdale's guilty conscience overwhelms him like a plague, robbing him of his health and preventing him from raising his daughter. His eventual confession comes too late, and he dies a victim of his own pride.

Arthur Dimmesdale Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

The The Scarlet Letter quotes below are all either spoken by Arthur Dimmesdale or refer to Arthur Dimmesdale. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sin Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Scarlet Letter published in 2015.
Chapter 3 Quotes
"Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him--yea, compel him, as it were--to add hypocrisy to sin?"
Related Characters: Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker), Hester Prynne
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester stands on the scaffold, facing her judgment, Governor Bellingham urges the young clergyman Reverend Dimmesdale to speak to Hester in front of the assembled crowd, to command her to reveal, confess, and repent for her sins. Dimmesdale does indeed ask Hester to reveal the name of her child's father -- if she wishes to do so (if she "feelest it to be for thy soul's peace"). As he makes this request, Dimmesdale implies that the child's father would suffer if he stayed silent; remaining hidden would "add hypocrisy to sin," compounding one form of wrong with another. Yet he also suggests that if she decides to remain silent, then the man would have no choice -- he would be "compelled" to stay silent as well. (This is all deeply ironic because, as we later learn, Dimmesdale himself is the child's father.) In this Puritan atmosphere, wrong behavior necessitates public recognition and resolution. Yet Dimmesdale's brief speech here seems to somewhat deviate from strict Puritanism, and from the Governor's intention. He makes a passionate, fleeting request, before other speakers cry more harshly at Hester, and the older clergyman present lectures about sin and the scarlet letter for at least an hour.

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Chapter 4 Quotes
As he spoke, he laid his long forefinger on the scarlet letter, which forwith seemed to scortch into Hester’s breast, as if it had been red-hot. He noticed her involuntary gesture, and smiled. “Live, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women—in the eyes of him thou didst call thy husband—in the eyes of yonder child! And, that thou mayst live, take off this draught.”
Related Characters: Roger Chillingworth (speaker), Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Red and Black
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

When Hester returns to the prison after this public scene, she is in a state of such agitation that the jailer brings in a man who seems to be a physician. This "physician" knows Hester, however; he is the man who held his finger to his lips, silently asking Hester to not reveal his identity. He gives Hester a medicinal drink ("draught") to ease her distress, but Hester doubts his motives, even questioning if he seeks to murder her for vengeance. His response is chilling; with "cold composure," he comments that Hester's life of shame would be a better form of revenge than death. He then lays his finger on her scarlet letter, instead of on his lips (as he did earlier). A supernatural, strange occurrence follows this man's description of Hester's "burning shame": Hester's breast burns where his finger touched her. This suggests that the strange man will almost personify evil in the novel, despite his familiarity with medicinal knowledge and healing. It is telling that he only reveals his identity as Hester's perhaps former husband (as "him thou didst call thy husband") after he reveals his nefarious nature. 

Chapter 11 Quotes
Would not the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled? Not so, indeed! They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more. They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words. "The godly youth!" said they among themselves. "The saint on earth!
Related Characters: Arthur Dimmesdale
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

As Dimmesdale struggled with his hypocrisy and guilt, he often described his extraordinary wickedness to his congregation during public sermons. Dimmesdale outlined the truth -- the horrifying extent of his moral impurity -- in only vague and general terms, so the congregation who heard him assumed that his words were only spurred by his holiness. They thought Dimmesdale was so holy that his little sins seemed outrageously sinful to him. So, Dimmesdale manipulated the binary between truths and lies; "He had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood," as the narrator captures for us. As he flirted with telling the truth, the extent of Dimmesdale's hypocrisy only grew, and with it grew his inner torture as well. 

Chapter 12 Quotes
"Nay; not so, my little Pearl!" answered the minister; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which—with a strange joy, nevertheless—he now found himself. "Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother thee one other day, but not to-morrow!"
Related Characters: Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker), Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

On an "obscure night" in May, Dimmesdale stands vigil upon the platform where Hester faced public condemnation with the infant Pearl in her arms. His sanity seems questionable -- at one point in the night he shrieks aloud, startling townspeople including Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins, who appear at their window and lattice. At another point, Dimmesdale merely envisions himself speaking to the passerby Mr. Wilson, and this prospect shocks him, exacerbating his anxiety. Peal and Hester arrive when Dimmesdale laughs, quite strangely, and Pearl echoes his laughter with her own. Dimmesdale invites Hester and Pearl onto the scaffold, and as they stand with linked hands, Pearl asks Dimmesdale to repeat this gesture tomorrow at noon. Dimmesdale refuses; Pearl has reminded him of his constant fear that he will be publicly exposed for his sins, and this fear overpowers his pleasure (his "strange joy") at being (re)united with Hester and Pearl. For Dimmesdale, public life has more power than private, internal desires, and Puritan conformity is stronger than individual conscience.

Chapter 17 Quotes
The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience-stricken priest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"

"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it."
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

Hester succeeds in finding Dimmesdale in the forest, a site far enough removed from society to allow them to carry a frank conversation. They turn to their innermost thoughts, eventually; after moving through more mundane topics, Dimmesdale reveals the intensity of his guilt and Hester exposes Chillingworth's lust for revenge when she admits that she and Chillingworth were married. Dimmesdale claims that God's judgment is "too mighty" for him to face, but Hester urges Dimmesdale to seek God's mercy -- or, at least, she claims that God would show mercy if Dimmesdale had enough "strength" to ask for it. This scene reveals Dimmesdale's weakness of character, and Hester's strength; Hester must encourage him and lead him. Although Dimmesdale is the clergyman, the public leader, Hester is the individual strong enough to guide Dimmesdale, just as she is the only individual strong enough to face the condemnation of the public. 

"Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest track? Backwards to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes; but onward too! Deeper it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step! until, some few miles hence, the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man’s tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?"
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale faintly asks Hester to "Be .. strong for me" and "Advise me what to do," Hester gives an exhortation reminiscent of Dimmesdale's passionate sermons. She reminds him that the same path which leads back to the town stretches "onward too"; it goes "deeper ... into the wilderness" as well. Hester stresses that Dimmesdale is "free" in woods, in nature; Dimmesdale is not as fundamentally confined in his sin (and in Chillingworth's reaction to his sin) as he believes he is. Dimmesdale need not just be virtuous in life—he also could be "happy," if he left his position in society behind him and journeyed to more natural, less judgmental places. Here, Hester is not merely rousing Dimmesdale to leave the town; she is advocating that he could leave his Puritanism and his sin behind as well. Such a journey would take Dimmesdale out of the social infrastructure which has framed the novel. 

Chapter 19 Quotes
"Doth he love us?" said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mother's face. "Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?"

"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"

"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hester directly tells Pearl that Dimmesdale loves both of them, Pearl questions this sentiment, asking if he will prove his love by entering the town while holding their hands. Pearl echoes the question she asked on the scaffold (if Dimmesdale would stand there in the day's sunlight as well), and here the narrator characterizes and directly describes the "acute intelligence" that these probing queries reveal in Pearl. Again, Pearl is told that Dimmesdale will display this connection before the townspeople on another day ("in days to come"), as the final revelation is delayed even further, intensifying Dimmesdale's hypocrisy and the narrative's tension. Yet after the freeing moments in the woods, Hester can more clearly envision such a future with Dimmesdale -- comfortable times with a "home" and a "fireside." This suggests that the splendid moments she and Dimmesdale had in the forest together are dimmed but not eradicated. Their vision of escaping their town has proved quixotic and impossible, but Hester is more willing to ponder a possible future with Dimmesdale than she has ever been before. 

Chapter 22 Quotes
“Mother," said [Pearl], “was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?"
“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. “We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

During the inauguration ceremony for the new governor, Pearl sees Dimmesdale among the officials who parade across the market-place. Shortly, Dimmesdale will deliver the Election Speech; he is clearly categorized as a public figure, and he does not appear to even notice Hester and Pearl as he passes by them. This is apparent to the ever-observant Pearl, who questions her mother whether Dimmesdale is the "same minister" that she saw in the woods. Pearl thus introduces a powerful question about personal and social identity, a question which her mother rebukes. Hester suggests that we must separate events from "the forest" -- events of natural human passion, from incidents in "the market-place" -- incidents constrained within public arenas. Despite all of her individuality and strength, Hester does not here attempt to close the separation between the personal and the public. 

Chapter 23 Quotes
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale finally admits his specific sin in front of the townspeople, and reveals that he shares the burden of the scarlet letter with Hester, as the father her child, he asks Pearl for a kiss. Instead of refusing the individuals around herself, and acting according to her personal impulses like a wild creature, Pearl actually complies with Dimmesdale's request. She kisses his lips, and she suddenly appears to transform from supernatural to human. Pearl becomes a woman, wholly ceasing to be the chimerical, precocious child whose unnaturalness reminds Hester of her flawed conception and intimate association with sin. Once Pearl's human father is revealed, Pearl becomes human as well; Dimmesdale saves her as he saves himself. 

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Arthur Dimmesdale Character Timeline in The Scarlet Letter

The timeline below shows where the character Arthur Dimmesdale appears in The Scarlet Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
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...women waiting outside the prison say Hester deserved a harsher sentence. One states that Revered Dimmesdale, Hester's pastor, must be ashamed that a member of his congregation committed such an awful... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Mr. Wilson, an elderly local reverend, addresses Hester and calls on her pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale, to question her about her sin. Dimmesdale demands that she reveal the identity of her... (full context)
Chapter 8
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John Wilson, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale arrive at the Governor's residence. The men tease Pearl, calling her a demon-child because of... (full context)
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Hester begs Dimmesdale to defend her. Dimmesdale argues that Pearl was sent by God to serve as Hester's... (full context)
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Chillingworth notes that Dimmesdale spoke with an unusual amount of passion and conviction. (full context)
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Pearl approaches Dimmesdale and grasps his hand. She then runs down the hall. Mr. Wilson remarks that, like... (full context)
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Dimmesdale's speech convinces the Governor not to take Pearl from Hester. On their way out of... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Dimmesdale's health worsens and he is seen often with his hand over his heart. Chillingworth treats... (full context)
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As Dimmesdale's health wanes, the locals notice that Chillingworth's has transformed from a kind, elderly, and somewhat... (full context)
Chapter 10
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While serving as Dimmesdale's "leech" (a term for a doctor) Chillingworth begins to suspect that Dimmesdale's condition may stem... (full context)
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Pearl throws one of the burrs she is carrying toward Dimmesdale. She tells Hester that they should leave since the Black Man has possessed Dimmesdale and... (full context)
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Dimmesdale's health gets worse. Chillingworth attributes his illness to his secret, but Dimmesdale still refuses to... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Convinced that Dimmesdale is Pearl's father, Chillingworth embarks on a campaign to make his patient as miserable as... (full context)
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Dimmesdale continues to preach and delivers some of his most passionate sermons, which focus mostly on... (full context)
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Dimmesdale's guilt makes him hate himself. He punishes himself physically and emotionally, staying up nights thinking... (full context)
Chapter 12
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One night, Dimmesdale mounts the town scaffold where Hester and Pearl once stood to be shamed. He imagines... (full context)
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Hester and Pearl, returning from the deathbed of the colony's first governor, do spot Dimmesdale, and join him on the scaffold. Her eyes alive with "witchcraft," Pearl asks Dimmesdale to... (full context)
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A meteor lights up the sky in what Dimmesdale thinks is the shape of an "A." Pearl notices Chillingworth watching them. Chillingworth, looking like... (full context)
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The next day Dimmesdale delivers his most powerful sermon ever. Afterward, the church sexton returns to Dimmesdale a black... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Hester decides that she must help Dimmesdale by confessing that Chillingworth was her husband, thereby revealing the vengeful motive behind his harsh... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Hester tells Chillingworth he holds Dimmesdale's life in his hands. Chillingworth says he saved Dimmesdale's life by not revealing his link... (full context)
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...Hester for his downfall. Hester agrees, pleading with Chillingworth therefore not to blame and abuse Dimmesdale any further. (full context)
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Hester says she must tell Dimmesdale about Chillingworth. He responds that their fate, a "black flower," is no longer in anyone's... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...what the scarlet letter means, and asks if Hester wears it for the same reason Dimmesdale covers his heart with his hand. (full context)
Chapter 16
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Hester plans to intercept Dimmesdale along a forest path as he returns to Boston on his way back from visiting... (full context)
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As Hester waits for Dimmesdale, Pearl asks to hear the story of the Black Man, a nickname for the devil.... (full context)
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Dimmesdale approaches. He appears weak, and walks with his hand over his heart, where Pearl suspects... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest and hold hands. Dimmesdale says life with a scarlet letter would... (full context)
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Hester reveals to Dimmesdale that Chillingworth was her husband. Dimmesdale, furious, blames her for his suffering. But he then... (full context)
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Dimmesdale says living under Chillingworth's control is worse than death, but he sees no way out.... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Dimmesdale decides to flee Boston with Hester. He calls her his "angel" and says he's been... (full context)
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Dimmesdale and Hester discuss Pearl, whom Hester says she barely understands. Pearl, meanwhile, has been playing... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Dimmesdale says he feared that Pearl's resemblance to him would give away his secret—the narrator says... (full context)
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Pearl asks if Dimmesdale will return with them hand in hand to town. Hester says he won't join them... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Hester and Dimmesdale agree to flee with Pearl to Europe. As Hester makes plans for them to leave... (full context)
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At home, Dimmesdale tells Chillingworth that the "free air" outside has done him so much good that he... (full context)
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Dimmesdale throws the draft of his most important sermon into the fire and starts from scratch. (full context)
Chapter 21
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...("painted barbarians") and some crew members ("desperadoes") from the vessel that Hester will board with Dimmesdale. (full context)
Chapter 22
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Dimmesdale appears in the procession of officials and looks more energetic than ever before. Pearl barely... (full context)
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...she can always tell a servant of the Black Man, and that both Hester and Dimmesdale are such servants. Hibbins also compares Hester's scarlet letter to Dimmesdale's habit of covering his... (full context)
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Pearl asks Mistress Hibbins if she has seen what lies beneath Dimmesdale's hand. Mistress Hibbins invites her to ride to see the Black Man (who she calls... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Dimmesdale awes the crowd with a powerful sermon that predicts Puritan New England will flourish as... (full context)
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After his triumphant sermon, Dimmesdale sees Hester and Pearl in front of the scaffold. He asks them to approach him... (full context)
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On the scaffold, Dimmesdale turns to Hester and says: "Is this not better than what we dreamed of in... (full context)
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Dimmesdale falls to the floor and asks Pearl for a kiss. She kisses him and cries,... (full context)
Chapter 24
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People came up with various explanations for the origin of Dimmesdale's scarlet letter. Some thought Dimmesdale carved it himself, as a penance. Others that Chillingworth, through... (full context)
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After Dimmesdale's death, Chillingworth lost his vitality and died within a year, leaving Pearl a share of... (full context)
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...letter, which had taken on its own legend over time. She was buried next to Dimmesdale. Their shared tombstone bore a single scarlet letter on a field of black. (full context)