The Scarlet Letter Scaffold Scenes
The Scarlet Letter Interpretive Essay In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the Reverend Dimmesdale is the central conflict of the story. He is torn between his need to accept and pronounce his sin and Pearl as his daughter and his love of freedom. His demeanor drastically changes from the first scaffold scene, where he is seen as a two-faced criticizer to the third and final scaffold scene, where he humbly repents and acknowledges his sin publicly.
The three scaffold scenes in the book are very important, as they portray Dimmesdale’s gradual advancement from total hypocrite towards complete atonement for his sin.
In the first scaffold scene, Hester Prynne is seen on the scaffold, holding Pearl in her arms, unwaveringly acknowledging her sin. The Reverend Dimmesdale is there as well, taking on the role of her accuser and demanding that she reveal the person with whom she committed the adulterous act. Hester Prynne absolutely refuses to name the father of her child and declares.
I will not speak, and my child must seek a heavenly Father, she shall never know an earthly one! ” (Page 60) This scene shows Reverend Dimmesdale as a sheer hypocrite and, while he persists in having Hester name her lover, he secretly prays that she maintains her silence in order to keep his reputation immaculate. At the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale, who is still maintaining his position as Hester Prynne’s accuser and a hypocrite, is suffering with the struggle of his perfect reputation battling his real self.
During the middle of the night, while the townspeople are all asleep, Dimmesdale makes his way to the scaffold, holding a silent vigil. He cries out in physical and mental pain. Hester and Pearl hear his crying as they are on their way home and go to him. There, at Dimmesdale’s request, that they join him on the scaffold where they stand in the darkness, holding each other. Pearl then asks Dimmesdale if he would stand with them at noontide the next day and he refuses, saying that instead, they will stand together on the great Judgement Day.
During the third and final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale is finally seen as humbly repentant for his and Hester’s sin. Immediately after his Election Day sermon, which makes him even more popular among the townspeople, Dimmesdale, leads the procession of people towards the town hall for a banquet. As he nears the scaffold, he calls for Hester and Pearl to help him up the stairs and asks them once again to stand beside him. At this moment, Dimmesdale confesses to the whole town, pronouncing his guilt but yet, at the same time, was able to salvage his soul.
Dimmesdale is finally able to free himself of all anguish and die with an open conscience. This is the only moment of pride for Dimmesdale throughout the entire book. He then dies, knowing that he will be warmly welcomed into God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Through the three scaffold scenes, Nathaniel Hawthorne shows the increasing mental and physical pain the Reverend Dimmesdale experienced by trying to hide his sin from the townspeople and God Himself.
In the first scaffold scene, he is Hester’s two-faced accuser; in the second scaffold scene, he displays unbearable bodily and psychological pain. Finally, in the third scaffold scene, he is publicly and humbly repentant for his sin, liberating not only himself, but also Hester and Pearl. Although one could say that he dies in shame in the eyes of the townspeople, because of his willful public confession, he is actually given a gracious acceptance into Heaven, where he will live with eternal happiness and completely free of any torment or anguish.
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