Stage 4(Sage): The Scarlet Letter, chapter 9

CHAPTER 9 : THE INTERIOR OF A HEART

After the incident last described, Roger Chillingworth had a sufficiently plain path before him. Calm as he appeared, there was now an awakened malice (1) in this old man. He began to plot a more intimate revenge upon his enemy than any mortal had ever wreaked (2).

 

He would make himself the clergyman’s one trusted friend. All that guilty sorrow hidden away from the world–a world that would have been much more apt to forgive him–would be solely revealed to him, the Pitiless—to him, the Unforgiving!

 

The clergyman’s sensitive and reserved nature interfered with this scheme. Yet Roger Chillingworth remained unsatisfied with the anguish Providence had already brought upon the miserable man. To him, those punishments were weak substitutes for the black devices, his preferred set of weapons which he quite often used against the clergyman.

 

In all subsequent meetings between old Roger Chillingworth and Mr. Dimmesdale, it seemed that the latter’s innermost soul was made clearly visible in the eyes of Roger Chillingworth. He became, thenceforth, not only an onlooker, but a chief actor in the workings of the poor minister’s inner world.

 

Puppetmaster, the old man could play upon Mr. Dimmesdale as he chose. Would he arouse (3) him with a throb of agony? Would he startle him with sudden fear? Waving his magician’s wand, grisly phantoms rose, circling around the clergyman and pointing their fingers at his breast.

 

Yet all of this was accomplished with such a perfect subtlety that the minister could never see the true nature of old Roger Chillingworth. It is true that the minister looked at the old physician doubtfully, fearfully—even, at times, with horror and hatred. His slightest actions were odious (4) to the clergyman, a result of a deeper antipathy (5) in his breast he was not willing to acknowledge.

 

Mr. Dimmesdale, ever-fearful of the growing poison in his heart, disregarded these thoughts. Yet it was not so easily done. But as a matter of principle, he attempted to continue his prior familiarity with the old man.

 

While he was undergoing a great suffering, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in the Puritan community. He won it indeed, in great part, due to his sorrows. His intellectual gifts, his moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and communicating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural (6) activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life. His fame, though still on its upward slope, already overshadowed the reputations of his fellow–clergymen, many of which were eminent (7) individuals, many of which were much older than himself.

 

It was because these fathers, otherwise so holy, lacked the Tongue of Flame. They spoke to the community from above, voices resounding indistinctly (8). Despite having the perfect knowledge of those highest holy truths, they were unable to express them in words familiar and humble.

 

Mr. Dimmesdale’s burden kept him among the lowest of the brethren. Yet it was this burden that brought him so intimately close to the sinful mankind to which he spoke. His heart pounding in unison with theirs, the people deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness. The virgins of his church grew pale around him; the aged members of the community wished that their bones be buried close to their young pastor’s holy grave. The ground he trod upon was sanctified (9) in their eyes.

 

The clergyman, who had always been a firm upholder of the truth, was tortured by this public veneration (10). He longed to speak out, to reveal to the public his true nature. “I, your pastor, whom you so revere and trust, am an utter lie!”

 

More than once, he had gone into the pulpit with this very intention. And more than once, he had spoken! He had told his audience that he was the utmost vile (11) creature in all of existence-in hundreds of ways as well.

 

They heard it all-yet only revered (12) him more for his self-condemning words. “If he,” they would say, “-that godly youth, sees such sinfulness in himself, what iniquity there must be in thine or mine!”

 

The minister–remorseful hypocrite that he was–had known how his vague confession would be interpreted. In hoping to release the guilt in his conscience, he had only added to it by sinning anew.

 

And thus, above all else, he grew to loathe (13) himself!

 

In private, he plied (14) a bloody scourge (15) upon his shoulders, all the while laughing bitterly at the self-inflicted pain.

 

It was his habit, too, to undergo rigorous fasts–not like those of the pious (16) Puritans, who did so in order to purify their bodies, but rather as an act of penance (17) for his sins.

 

With the same intent did he keep nightly vigils (18). In their length, his brain often reeled (19), visions flitting before his eyes. Herds of diabolic (20) shapes grinned and mocked him. His father and mother turned their faces away as they passed by him. And then, Hester Prynne lead along little Pearl-the scarlet vision-who pointed her finger: first at the scarlet letter of the maternal bosom and then at the clergyman’s own breast.

 

Yet none of these visions ever quite deluded him. With effort, he could convince himself that these visions were not real. But alas! They were the truest things with which the poor minister now dealt with.

 

The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his soul and its manifestation in his poor health. Had he once found the power to smile, had his health been restored, there would no longer be a man!

 

On one particularly grievous night, the minister stood from his chair. A new plan had come to him, one that would perchance allow him a moment’s peace. Attiring himself carefully, he stole softly down the staircase-as to not awaken his kind physician-, undid the door, and went forth into the night.


 

+GLOSSARY

 

1/malice(n): the intention to harm another; evil intent

2/wreak(v): to cause; to bring about; to avenge; to inflict (vengeance)

3/arouse(v): to stir up or awaken a feeling in someone

4/odious(adj): despicable; unpleasant; sickening

5/antipathy(n): a deep feeling of dislike towards another; an innate sentiment of hatred

6/preternatural(adj): supernatural; abnormal; exceptional

7/eminent(adj): well-known; important; influential

8/indistinctly(adv): blurred; not clearly heard or understood

9/sanctify(v): to make holy; to make sacred; to purify

10/veneration(n): great respect; awe inspired by the dedication of an individual

11/vile(adj): disgusting; odious; sickening

12/revere(v): to highly respect; to put somebody on a pedestal; to hold in high regard

13/loathe(v): to strongly hate; to be repelled by

14/ply(v): to use; to wield (a weapon)

15/scourge(v): a whip; a flog; a lash (used for punishment and suffering)

16/pious(adj): holy; spiritual; saintly

17/penance(n): an act of repentance; an act of self-punishment to relieve oneself of one’s sins

18/vigil(n): the act of staying awake late into the night, typically to pray

19/reel(v): to falter; to sway; to stumble

20/diabolic(adj): demonic; evil; unholy

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