Bent on Vengeance: Roger Settling the Scores (The Scarlet Letter)
“Here beheld a man, well stricken in years, a pale, thin scholar-like visage with eyes dim and bleared by the lamp light that had served them to pore over many ponderous books. Hawthorne (1850)” Words used to
describe probably the most evil spirited character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s undoubted work of fine art known as The Scarlet Letter. Though as he made his first appearance at the recognition of lass Hester Prynne and her infant Pearl’s sin infested revelation, he appeared merely a peaceful old man in touch with nature as he stood far behind the horde of spiteful spectators with his Native American companion. Roger Chillingworth was this intellectual’s name. And early in this book he is revealed as the husband of dear Hester Prynne. This is a man who, without any explanation, had been absent for three years, as his young spouse waited in the Colonies for his arrival and returned only to find his wife with a child, born of adulterous lust and sin, who’s father had yet to be exposed. And in this puritan-based story filled with guilt, trepidation and the fear of God, hides a case of ‘right or wrong.’ This argument questions whether this old man had liberty to seek out revenge on poor Reverend Dimmsdale, who was the father of the innocent little girl. Was it God’s will? Was it Roger’s own fixation on this attempt that provoked his downfall into the clutches of the wicked and immorality? Join me as I journey through the mania of questions that I only hope I can find answers to.
On these terms I have provided, I both agree and disagree. This triangle of desire, shame and reprisal is one that can be well seen in our days. If this happened to me, in the case of my being portrayed as Roger, I would not have persisted in my acts any other way. Maybe this is because my mind has long been distorted by the passion of cruelty.
But I also have an ethical side to me, and in so, I can say that Roger was a fool, and unjust to hold Reverend Dimmsdale’s hand down the road to his demise. He could have taken to these matters in a better way.
After interrogation held upon Hester, Roger eventually figured out that Dimmsdale was the father. And after this discovery, which can be credited all to his investigative measures, he devoted his life to the torment and ruin of the already soul-impaired reverend. At first he did not know. But suspicion rose as he grew to know the clergyman who grew emaciated parallel to the arrival of Chillingworth. “His voice, though still rich and sweet, had certain melancholy prophecy of decay in it…and on any slight alarm he would put his hand over his heart with paleness, indicative of pain. Hawthorne(1850)” This showed signs of a secret held tightly by him, and Roger sought to find out and did.
This is where I think Chillingworth should have sat down to reflect on what he was readying himself for. Was he actually prepared to demolish a young man’s life, and kill him silently? I think not. In that time and place of Puritanism and dedication to God, this was far from the principles of man. He too would have been a sinner, and would be dealt with by God’s judgment and placed in Hell. But this idea of Christianity passed him by and led him to his wrongful doings. Hawthorne marks that the townspeople spoke of Roger being a demon sent to destroy Dimmsdale, or an angel sent to revive him from his state of sickness. The two can be well argued upon. But obviously he was a man bent on redemption and inspired by evil. Though my outlook on this is simple; he is just a madman that will not refrain from his crusade until either side is fully dismantled.
“Throughout life, he had been calm, though not of warm affections, but ever a pure and upright man…Now there was evil in his face, no one had previously noticed, but grew more obvious in sight…Dimmsdale was haunted by Satan or his emissary, Roger Chillingworth. Hawthorne (1850)” Here, the reader can see Roger as a man who was brought down by evil and the sinners who embraced it (Hester & Dimmsdale). It is clear that Hawthorne sees Chillingworth as the victim because of this. And my senses tell me that this may be true but in spite of the doubt, what became of their well beings brought all three to a plummet of pride, but too late to save the Reverend and the old scholar. Death came to one, and self-damnation and realization of his wrong-doings to the other.
I have interviewed several warmhearted and spiritually inclined friends who “live by the book.” To them, the outcome of this dilemma was absurd and saddening. They guided me through their interpretation of the story and to be blunt, their views seemed more unrealistic because of the religious smudge left by their “word.” They told me that if Dimmsdale and Hester hade made their dirty deeds public, life for them would not have been so hard. The Reverend would repent, and later feel better rather than to let himself be tortured to death. Hester would probably be accepted more rather than being an outcast. Pearl would have gotten direction in her early years, and not be considered a “demon child.” And because of Dimmsdale revealing himself, Roger would not have turned himself into a man of malice imbued with hate. And everyone would live happy ever after, right? NO! It’s human nature to be angry, to be confused or to feel guilt stirring up in your stomach. It cannot be evaded. Never the less, there is always the benefit of the doubt, but this is something I never care to overlook.
So as I sit here in the midst of the late night, cold and drained of most mental thought, let me review my ideas to you. Roger was right in what he did. Maybe he could have done it in a better way. He could have tried to help Dimmsdale with his suffering and heartache from the inevitable truth. But the nature of hate and fear overpowered him. I can admit that it is distressing to see someone go from a quiet, enlightened and subtle man to one who is dismal with only hatred on his mind, aroused by wickedness. It’s been a long and interesting passage through the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the only thing that I really can conclude form the story and from this essay is this; there is nothing that can hold back one’s thoughts over right or wrong, because right is wrong and wrong is right. Everyone has their own opinion. And I have given you mine.
The Scarlet Letter,
Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1850)
New Jersey, Bedford Books