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An Analysis of Chillingworth's Character

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Although Chillingworth was construed as the character representing evil, the truth was that he was simply allowing himself to express the natural feeling of vengeance that Puritan society sought to suppress in an attempt to obliterate his feelings of guilt for Hester's downfall.

Chillingworth's physical description immediately brings to mind an evil man; much like the evil characters of fairy tales are ugly; misshapen, with piercing eyes. There is no evidence to refute this initial depiction of Chillingworth until his guilty conscience becomes evident when he confesses his role in the direction Hester's life has taken.

Hester's fear of Chillingworth was apparent since her stint on the pillory, when she '[perceived] that thin visage, and the slight deformity of the figure, she pressed her infant to her bosom, with so convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of pain' (42), but this fear is misguided because Chillingworth felt no vengeful urge towards Hester. When Chillingworth recognized his wife standing in her place of public shame '[a] writhing horror twisted itself across his features' (42), which was not, as it may originally be interpreted, an expression of rage, but pain at the prospect of what had happened to Hester. Chillingworth's pain originated from feelings of guilt for her predicament, because he believed '[it] was [his] folly and [Hester's] weakness' (51) that led her to the 'pedestal of infamy' (51) upon which he saw Hester again for the first time.

Chillingworth's comparatively gentle treatment of Hester was demonstrated when he said to her 'half coldly, half soothingly' (50) that the medicine he was giving Pearl was 'potent for good; and were it [his] child' [he] could do no better for it' (50). He also seemed sad that Hester seemed to think '[his] purposes were wont to be so shallow' (50). If he was truly an evil man it is doubtful that he would have had any regard for Hester's opinion of him.

He also deserves a measure of leniency in judgment because he returned to find the woman he wished could have loved him and 'in whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of the home, set up as a type of sin before the people' (81). Did he not deserve to feel some hate for Dimmesdale, the man he views as the person responsible for stealing his idealization of what could have been from him? Though Hawthorne's characterization of Chillingworth as a parasite was true to Chillingworth's behavior, his motives were natural and his punishment of Dimmesdale would not have been so severe if Dimmesdale had not kept his resolve in refusing to admit his guilt.

In fact, most of the punishment Chillingworth exacted on Dimmesdale took a toll on Chillingworth as much as it did Dimmesdale. He attempted to assuage his own feelings of guilt by focusing on the punishment of Dimmesdale, which escalated as he and the minister 'came gradually to spend time together' (84) and even lived together where Chillingworth proved his suspicions and had opportunity to cause much greater harm to him. Whereas a lesser man who was truly evil may have deigned to reveal his lapse in judgment or perhaps even murdered him in the name of revenge, it may be said that Chillingworth only let Dimmesdale torture himself, even giving him opportunity to confess to his malfeasance and so unburden himself. It was 'at a hint from Roger Chillingworth'by which the two were lodged in the same house' (86), and Dimmesdale may have chosen at any time to seek forgiveness and so absolve himself. Dimmesdale was 'doomed by his own choice'to eat his unsavory morsel always at another's board, and endure the life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at another's fireside' (86). While all that was shown of Dimmesdale's torture was a mere synecdoche of the quality of life Dimmesdale must have endured, most was undoubtedly at his own hand.

Chillingworth could have 'dug into the poor clergyman's heart'likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption' (88) and caused no harm had there been nothing to find. I truth, Dimmesdale grew to misprize Chillingworth because he subconsciously recognized that the only way to palliate his suffering would be to do what he must have known Chillingworth wanted from the instant Hester denounced Chillingworth as a man not laudable as he was previously beheld by the community but her scheming, vengeful husband: to freely and publicly strip himself of his reputation. Chillingworth may not have believed he could cozen Dimmesdale into doing such, but his opprobrium for Dimmesdale which undoubtedly allowed him to watch the suffering of the clergyman was in all likelihood, what he believed was fair punishment for the minister's stubborn refusal to cease his prevarication of what Chillingworth was now convinced was fact.

In modern society a person in Chillingworth would likely not have turned into a vapid, sneering doppelg'nger of his previous self, but would have ensured that the man he deemed the cause of his grief did not elude his grasp without commensurable vituperation. While his offenses caused harm it was not undue, because it may have ended at any time should his victim chosen to repent and retreat from the protection of his own cowardice.

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Apr. 9, 2012 at 9:41 am
this really, really, really helped me with my english notecards and my outline! thank you so much for posting, it wasa huge help!
Carrot Juice said...
Jan. 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm
Brilliant analysis of Chillingworth!
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