The Scarlet Letter Analysis
The Devil’s home in colonial is known as the scaffold, a simple platform holding devices of punishment.
This is where so many wrongdoers are sent to pay for their sins. Pain, remorse, and embarrassment are all felt by those forced to stand constrained for hours on end unable to hide their shame. The scaffold in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter serves as the traditional place of punishment in the New England colony. More importantly, the scaffold serves as a place of change in character for Arthur Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale’s character is initially introduced during the first scaffold scene as being strong yet nervous.
His strength is shown in his position and speech. Dimmesdale is just as responsible as his lover Hester Prynne for the “great scandal” Hester’s adultery caused in the church, yet he allows Hester to stand alone on the scaffold while he stands seemingly innocent with the rest of the town leaders (Hawthorne 57). Also, his appeal to Hester is said to be “so powerful . . .
that the people could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty name; or else that the guilty one himself . . . would be drawn forth” (Hawthorne 63). Dimmesdale’s outward appearance and responses to Hester are representative of his nervousness in this scene. Although a reverend who should be used to speaking in front of crowds, he is described as having “an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look” (Hawthorne 63).
When asked to address Hester, his face goes pale and his lips tremble. Then, when Hester refuses to reveal the father’s identity, Dimmesdale seems relieved stating, “Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart, she will not speak” (Hawthorne 64). By the end of the scaffold scene, Dimmesdale seems more reassure that Hester will not reveal his secret. In the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale is torn between remorse and cowardice. He goes to the scaffold and stands where Hester stood alone seven years before in an attempt to relieve some of the guilt that has been gnawing at him for so long. By coming at night though, when “no eye could see him save that ever wakeful one which has seen him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge,” Dimmesdale shows that he is too afraid to truly reveal his sin (Hawthorne 134).
Furthermore, Dimmesdale makes an outward cry for someone to come find him atop the scaffold when he makes “an outcry that went pealing through the night” (Hawthorne 135). When Mr. Wilson walks past him though, Dimmesdale only imagines that he calls out to his fellow reverend. Standing with Hester and Pearl on the scaffold only adds to his inward struggle. Dimmesdale feels the three of them form “an electric chain” while holding hands but the refuses Pearl’s request for them to stand this way during the day fearing the turmoil public exposure my bring (Hawthorne 139). A last twinge of remorse is felt when the reverend sees a meteor appear as an “A” in the sky and feels it burn into his chest.
Dimmesdale completes his character metamorphosis in the last scaffold scene when he admits publicly to his sin. By this point, guilt has eaten away at Dimmesdale so much so that his face seems “hardly the face of a man alive, with such a deathlike hue” (Hawthorne 224). Realizing he is close to death, he uses the last of his strength to climb upon the scaffold with Hester and Pearl. The “doubt and anxiety” in Dimmesdale still exists but it is diminished by the knowledge that this may be his last opportunity to publicly repent (Hawthorne 226). This gives him the strength to address the townspeople.
The burden of guilt is finally relieved when Dimmesdale “[tears] away the ministerial band from before his breast” revealing an “A” upon his chest (Hawthorne 228). As Dimmesdale dies, his transformation from a cowardice man to a morally right man is complete. In colonial America, criminals who are sentenced to punishment atop the scaffold endure physical and mental torture. This period of torture allows these sinners to reflect on the crime they have committed and learn from it. The person who climbs onto the scaffold is never the same one who leaves it when the punishment is over. Arthur Dimmesdale parallels this as his character develops throughout each of the three scaffold scenes.