The Scarlet Letter

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Roger Chillingworth Character Analysis

The old scholar who Hester Prynne met and married before coming to Boston. Chillingworth is a forbidding presence. Even his name reflects his haunting, ice-cold aura. Hester's relationship with Chillingworth, her actual husband, contrasts sharply with her relationship with Dimmesdale, her lover. Chillingworth is an older man whom she married for reasons other than love. Dimmesdale is a beloved reverend with whom she had an affair out of love and irrepressible desire. Chillingworth recognizes this difference and punishes Hester and Dimmesdale covertly by tormenting Dimmesdale almost to the point of killing him. Meanwhile, he hypocritically makes Hester swear not to reveal his true identity as her husband in order to avoid the humiliation of being associated with their scandalous affair. In the end, by tormenting Dimmesdale, Chillingworth transforms himself into a sick and twisted man, a kind of fiend.

Roger Chillingworth Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

The The Scarlet Letter quotes below are all either spoken by Roger Chillingworth or refer to Roger Chillingworth. 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
When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester observes the townspeople gathered around her, she notices an unusual figure: a man with "a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume." Apparel and appearances serve as important symbols throughout the novel, so this is our first indication that this new character is of special significance. Like Hester (who bears the scarlet letter on her garb), he does not quite belong in this New England, Puritan town. Yet this shared sense of separation does not seem to make this stranger treat Hester better than the townspeople treat her. This figure is menacing; the narrator associates him with snakes and darkness. And, as he and Hester look at each other, he does not come to her aid in any sense. He merely puts a finger on his lips, silently asking her to stay silent about his identity. 

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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 15 Quotes
"Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne bitterly, as she still gazed after him, "I hate the man!"

[…]

"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. "He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
As Hester and Chillingworth converse on the beach, Chillingworth admits his malicious nature (which makes him like a "fiend") but refuses to forgive Dimmesdale. Once they part ways, Hester speaks to herself, commenting that she hates Chillingworth. She then remembers the time she spent with Chillingworth in England; she recalls their only "lukewarm" romance and interprets Chillingworth's attempts to capture her innocent love as his "fouler offence." To Hester, Chillingworth was the most evil when he strove to constrain her passions and tame her into his lover and wife. As the memories fade into forgetting, Hester more passionately repeats her declaration of hatred, even adding that Chillingworth acted worse to her than she ever did, even in her adultery. This passage does not only color Hester's adultery in a more sympathetic way; it also illustrates how Hester's moral judgments arise from natural impulses and passions, emphasizing a moral system that is an alternative to Puritanism. 
Chapter 17 Quotes
"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. 

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Roger Chillingworth Character Timeline in The Scarlet Letter

The timeline below shows where the character Roger Chillingworth appears in The Scarlet Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
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Suddenly as Hester looks out into the crowd she recognizes Roger Chillingworth, her husband, standing beside an Indian at the edge of the crowd. She clutches her... (full context)
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Chillingworth is "civilized and savage." He is small, intelligent looking, and somewhat deformed, with one shoulder... (full context)
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Chillingworth's face becomes horrified when he sees that the woman on the scaffold is Hester, his... (full context)
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Chillingworth asks a man about Hester's identity and crime. The man is surprised Chillingworth hasn't heard... (full context)
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The stranger tells Hester's history. She had been married to a scholar from England (Chillingworth), but had arrived in Massachusetts alone while he remained in Amsterdam. She lived alone in... (full context)
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Chillingworth asks who fathered Hester's child. The man says that the child's father remains a mystery... (full context)
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Chillingworth predicts that the man who fathered Hester's child will eventually be revealed and repeats the... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...prison guards allow a doctor in to help calm her. Posing as a physician, Roger Chillingworth enters and gives healing concoctions to Pearl and Hester. Hester fears Chillingworth might actually be... (full context)
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Chillingworth forgives Hester for betraying him. He asks her to tell him the identity of the... (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... (full context)
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Chillingworth notes that Dimmesdale spoke with an unusual amount of passion and conviction. (full context)
Chapter 9
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The Boston settlement lacks skilled physicians, so the Puritans welcome Chillingworth enthusiastically for his apparent knowledge of both traditional medicine and Indian medical remedies. (full context)
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Dimmesdale's health worsens and he is seen often with his hand over his heart. Chillingworth treats Dimmesdale and soon the two move in together. (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 misshapen gentleman into an ugly evil old... (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 from stress caused by some kind of... (full context)
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Dimmesdale's health gets worse. Chillingworth attributes his illness to his secret, but Dimmesdale still refuses to reveal it. When Dimmesdale... (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 possible. Dimmesdale continues to... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...up the sky in what Dimmesdale thinks is the shape of an "A." Pearl notices Chillingworth watching them. Chillingworth, looking like an "arch-fiend," urges Dimmesdale to get down from the scaffold.... (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 treatment of Dimmesdale. (full context)
Chapter 14
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Hester decides to ask Chillingworth to stop tormenting Dimmesdale. When she and Pearl encounter him on a beach near the... (full context)
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Hester notices that Chillingworth has changed. He's now a wretched, vengeful old man. Chillingworth also notes the change, remembering... (full context)
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Hester tells Chillingworth he holds Dimmesdale's life in his hands. Chillingworth says he saved Dimmesdale's life by not... (full context)
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Chillingworth admits that he's become a "fiend." He blames Hester for his downfall. Hester agrees, pleading... (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 hands. He... (full context)
Chapter 15
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As Chillingworth departs, Hester thinks that though it's a sin, she hates Chillingworth for tricking her into... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Hester reveals to Dimmesdale that Chillingworth was her husband. Dimmesdale, furious, blames her for his suffering. But he then forgives her... (full context)
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Dimmesdale says living under Chillingworth's control is worse than death, but he sees no way out. Hester tells him to... (full context)
Chapter 20
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At home, Dimmesdale tells Chillingworth that the "free air" outside has done him so much good that he no longer... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Chillingworth walks over to and converses with the commander of the vessel bound for England. The... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...Pearl in front of the scaffold. He asks them to approach him at the scaffold. Chillingworth warns Dimmesdale not to "blacken" his fame. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...of Dimmesdale's scarlet letter. Some thought Dimmesdale carved it himself, as a penance. Others that Chillingworth, through magic poisons, brought it into being. Still others thought it developed naturally, from remorse.... (full context)
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After Dimmesdale's death, Chillingworth lost his vitality and died within a year, leaving Pearl a share of his property... (full context)