Chapter 12 – The Minister’s Vigil
He makes his way to the scaffold where seven years earlier Hester Prynne
stood holding her infant Pearl and wearing the sign of shame. He is able to stand here while the town sleeps, safe, in stark contrast to the scaffold that Hester stood on. Dimmesdale breaks down, and
overwhelmed with guilt he cries aloud into the night.
Just then, Hester and Pearl enter.
They have been at Governor’s Winthrop’s mansion. He is near death, and Hester has been making measurements for a robe. Pearl spots Dimmesdale and asks him if they will all stand together on the scaffold at noon the following day.
Dimmesdale responds that they will all stand together on “the great Judgment
The three stand together on the scaffold thinking that they will be unobserved. Just then the night sky is illuminated by a strange light and Dimmesdale thinks he can see a dull red light in the shape of a large letter A. Just then they notice Roger Chillingworth watching them.
Dimmesdale is in fear of Chillingworth and he asks Hester whether she knows
his true identity, but she remains silent.
The next day in church, one of the officials returns Dimmesdale’s glove,
which he had left on the scaffold. “Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence”. He also confirms that he saw the great red letter A in the sky.
Half way through the novel, Hawthorne again gathers all four main characters
together at the scaffold. This is the second of three crucial scenes at this important place.
This Chapter is rich in symbolism and Hawthorne uses convincing psychology
in furthering the plot.
Dimmesdale realizes that he is a coward and condemns himself for his action,
or lack of action. He is close to being totally unhinged and screams in frustration and despair.
The first scaffold scene took place in the middle of the day. This
scene occurs in the dead of night.
Again, a supernatural element enters the story in the appearance of a weird light in the sky. The
deranged Dimmesdale fells he is being haunted and sees the light form into a letter A.
They then realize that Chillingworth is standing near the scaffold. He represents evil. In his narrative Hawthorne explains the light as having been caused by a meteor and because of the misty nature of the weather, the light from the meteor is diffused throughout the whole sky. He suggests that the A appears only in Dimmesdale’s imagination. Hawthorne explains the sexton’s vision of the letter A as representing an angel, because Governor Winthrop is close to death.