Chapter 23 – The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter
The congregation spills out from the church at the end of Dimmesdale’s
Election Day Sermon.
His powerful oratory inspires them - words of wisdom from a man they feel is soon to die. The sermon marks the pinnacle of Dimmesdale’s career, he has saved his best sermon to the last, and it has been made in front of the whole congregation and dignitaries of the district. They pay tribute to him by saying, “Never, on New England’s soil has stood a man so honored by his mortal brethren, as the preacher.” There will now be a banquet at the Town Hall, and Dimmesdale suddenly staggers in the procession. He has a deathly look about him.
Several people try to help him, but he makes his way to the scaffold where
Hester stands holding Pearl by the hand.
He calls Hester and Pearl to his side. Chillingworth realizes what is about to happen and tries to stop him. Hester helps him get up onto the scaffold and the crowd watches in amazement. Dimmesdale tells Hester that he is dying and that he must acknowledge his sin. He bears his breast to the crowd, showing the sign of sin. He stands triumphant before the horrified crowd and then he sinks down upon the scaffold. Hester cradles him in her arms, and Chillingworth kneels down and repeats over and over, “Thou hast escaped me!”
Dimmesdale asks God’s forgiveness for Chillingworth’s sin, and then he turns
to Pearl and asks her for a kiss. She kisses him and cries.
Hester asks Dimmesdale if they will spend eternity together. He replies, “The law we broke! – the sin here so awful revealed! – let these alone be in thy thoughts.” His dying words are, “Praise be His name! His will be done! Farewell!”
This Chapter marks the climax of the story and it is the third scaffold
scene of the book. Again, all the principal characters are present. It begins with Dimmesdale’s triumphant sermon and ends with his death.
His congregation feels that their Minister is a saint.
He has drawn them in only for them to be shattered at his revelation on the scaffold. Just as he is false, so is their Puritan life, and their interpretation of God’s word, which makes them a sect rather than a Christian community.
At the end he has shown great courage in revealing his sin, and has in fact
made a greater sacrifice than Hester.
He has lost his love, his child, his life and his honor. Dimmesdale knows that God sees everything and there is no escape from that fact. An escape to Europe would not put him beyond the reach of God’s knowledge.
It is interesting to note that while he staggers in the procession, he
refuses help from the Reverend Wilson (the church), and from the Governor (the state). He only accepts help from Hester.
Despite the loss he has suffered Dimmesdale still has time to ask God’s
forgiveness for Chillingworth who has been his persistent tormentor.
Chillingworth has lost his final victory. He no longer has Dimmesdale to torment, and to rub salt in the wound, he receives Dimmesdale’s blessing.
Hester feels distraught.
She would have preferred all three of them to die together, for what will she do now?