Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Chillingworth's Revenge

The character of Mr. Roger Chillingworth, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, goes through several dark changes. This English physician who finds his young wife bearing the child of another man after two long years of separation is thrown into a world of moral dilemmas. His ill-fated decision to plague the man who wronged him takes an ironically and equally devastating toll on the doctor's health. Mr. Chillingworth is affected physically, mentally, and emotionally because of the evil he chooses to embrace and the revenge he attempts to impose.
When Hester Prynne firsts sees Chillingworth, he is described as much older than her but not an ugly man. "...on our first glimpse of him back in the marketplace, Chillingworth is neither crippled nor old, nor is he monstrously deformed as he appears to Hester seven years later... Notice, though, that despite Chillingworth's appearance in Hester's memory - 'well-stricken in years' - Hawthorne's narrator remonstrates that he 'could hardly be termed aged' “ (Reid 255). He comes as an ordinary learned man without any striking features other than "the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right" (Hawthorne 41) and his "disarray of civilized and savage costume" (42). As the story continues, the characteristics of this man begin to change.
The evil he chose to adopt is starting to show through in chapter fourteen while Hester and Roger converse on the beach. "Illegitimate, unredeemed, cuckolded, stripped of his proper name, Chillingworth has, indeed, become a fiend. His eyes glare red. His appearance is monstrous: 'a deformed old figure with a face that haunted men's memories longer than they liked.' ...he is ugly, 'dusky,' deformed and he spends too much time thinking" (Reid 260). This once handsome figure has digressed into something that is "more like a devil than a man" (Reid 260). Chillingworth focuses on Reverend Dimmesdale's suffering more than his own health and well-being, and it is beginning to display itself on him after seven years of vengeance.
Chillingworth's dark obsession is also taking its effect on his view of himself and his surroundings. Stillwell, Baumeister, and Del Priore best express the thinking of the physician in their research on revenge, saying, "Avengers portrayed the revenge as equitable, whereas recipients portrayed the revenge as excessive. Both avengers and recipients presented themselves as victims" (253). In the beginning, Roger Chillingworth was a man expecting to start a family. "He arrives at a place expecting to discover his wife and property and claim his identity as a member of a family… The notion that Chillingworth is inherently evil leads some readers to believe that Hester escaped from her husband to come to Boston... Hawthorne's narrator tells us that she had come ahead of her husband to prepare a home" (Reid 255).
When Chillingworth learns of his wife's betrayal, all of his dreams change: "Chillingworth reacts to the sight of his wife with a child with a repulsion physically manifested as a 'writhing horror' that twists 'itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them.' " (Reid 253). He becomes evil and lives entirely for the suffering of Dimmesdale. His appointment as the Reverend's physician only gives him more control over the young man and allows him to discover the painful secret. The knowledge he attained in Europe is then focused to find ways to keep Arthur alive but also to make him languish even longer. "Chillingworth does not want Arthur Dimmesdale to repent; the vengeful Chillingworth desires the minister to become more sinful, more hypocritical, as evidence of his damnation" (Reiss 201). The doctor sees himself as the victim of an evil that the Reverend put on him by taking away his chance of having a family and uses that thought to bolster his revenge.
The final disintegration of Chillingworth occurs on a deeper level. The emotions of this character are turned over and over through the progression of this story. He has become a dangerous menace but still has enough of his conscience when he "undergoes a moment of tragic self-recognition" (Reid 258) during the scene on the beach: " ‘Hast thou not tortured him enough?’ said Hester... ‘No!... He has but increased the debt!’ answered the physician... ‘Dost though remember me, Hester, as I was nine years agone... No life had been more peaceful and innocent than mine; few lives so rich with benefits conferred... Was I not... – kind, true, just, and of constant, if not warm affections? Was I not all this?’ ‘All this, and more,’ said Hester" (118). At one time, Chillingworth had been a loving husband and, as can be inferred from his education as a doctor, concerned for the well-being of others. While his choices have hidden the man Hester once knew, he is still there inside and recognizes what he has become but knows he can never go back.
He cannot move on because his home is where his family is: “ ‘Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and isolated from human interests, I find here a woman, a man, a child, amongst whom and myself there exist the closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or hate; no matter whether of right or wrong! Thou and thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home is where thou art, and where he is.’ “ (52). Chillingworth’s life has no meaning beyond the torment of the man who stole his life and happiness. Only at the end of the story does he try to redeem himself by bestowing his estates to young Pearl and showing his continued love for Hester. “Chillingworth, too, is loyal: he will remain by Hester’s side until death parts them” (Reid 257).

The sad tale of Mr. Roger Chillingworth is one that was not caused by his mistakes, but by the choices others made which led to the reaction he had. His body, mind, and soul were all altered due to his wife’s disloyalty and the revenge he sought on the Reverend. His life was changed forever when he learned of the Scarlet Letter’s meaning on Hester’s bosom. As Ms. Bethany Reid wrote, “In attempting to reveal the genetic father of his wife’s child, he works toward the wrong end, and he obscures his own potential” (258).











Works Cited
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994. Print.
Reid, Bethany. “Narrative of the Captivity and Redemption of Roger Prynne: Rereading The Scarlet Letter.” Studies in the Novel. Fall 2001. Vol. 33. Issue. 3. 247-267. 3 Feb. 2011. Print.
Reiss, John. "Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter." Explicator. Summer 1995. Vol. 53. Issue 4. 200-201. 3 Feb. 2011. Print.
Sillwell, Arlene, Roy Baumeister, and Regan Del Priore. “We’re All Victims Here: Toward a -Psychology of Revenge.” Basic And Applied Social Psychology. Sep. 2008. Vol. 30. Issue. 3. 253-363. 3 Feb. 2011. Print.





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