“Poor, miserable man! what right had infirmity like his to burden itself with a crime? Crime is for the iron-nerved, who have their choice either to endure it, or, if it presses too hard, to exert their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose, and fling it off at once! This feeble and most sensitive of the spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing or the another, which intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of heaven-defying guilt and vain repentance.” (Hawthorne & Robinson, 1954, p.274).
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These words throw light on the way adopted by the minister, Dimmesdale who repents for his deed against Hester and his daughter Pearl. The very strict social setup and his social position as a minister prevent him from acknowledging the reality that Pearl is his daughter in Hester. The imprisonment of Hester for adultery was the other reason for his self-torture and psychological distress. Here Hawthorne presents Dimmesdale as a light-hearted person who is incapable of bearing the stigma of his ‘crime’, torments physically and mentally. The novelist thinks that crime is for the iron-nerved persons who are wise enough for a choice.
These sorts of people are either ready to put up with all the problems or fling it off by exerting their fierce and savage strength for a good purpose. But regarding the feeble and the most sensitive, they shall continually be lamenting over the same issue or another which are intertwined with the first. Such light-hearted people, like Dimmesdale, defy their guilt and engage in vain repentance. Concerning the remorse of Dimmesdale, it is understood that he is partially willing to acknowledge Pearl as his daughter, but the other half of his mind does not allow him. These two extremes are the cause of his psychological as well as physical suffering and it is the same issue that takes his life away. He could not bear the pressure of the moment when he revealed the fact.
“Silly Pearl,” said she, “what questions are these? There are many things in this world that a child must not ask about. What know I of the minister’s heart? And as for the scarlet letter, I wear it for the sake of its gold thread.”(Hawthorne & Robinson, 1954, ed.2, p.336)
These lines are from the ‘Forest Walk’ chapter of the novel where Hester scolds her daughter, Pearl for questioning the burned “A” on the minister’s chest. The seven-year-old child, Pearl finds its similarity with the scarlet letter hanging on her mother Hester’s neck. Regarding Hester, it is the greatest secret of her life that should not be revealed to anyone, even to her daughter. Pearl’s question makes her angry or pretends to be, and she warns her daughter, “Do not tease me; else I shall put thee into the dark closet!.” (Hawthorne & Robinson,1954, p.338) To cover her secret from her child, she wears a mask of temper that keeps Pearl dumb.
Then Hester tries to pacify Pearl’s questions by telling that there are a lot of things that are beyond the comprehension level of children. Her nervousness and anger reveal the disturbed state of her mind, especially when she asks the question, “What know I of the minister’s heart?” She suspects whether Pearl will find any similarity with the burned “A” on the minister’s chest and the scarlet letter she wears. To get rid of Pearl’s suspicion, Hester says that she wears the scarlet letter for the sake of its gold thread. Hester does not like anyone questioning the matters connected with the scarlet letter and the burned “A” on the minister’s chest, which, as she thinks, would cause the loss of her identity.
When analyzing both quotes from the novel, one can find a kind of similarity in the character of the minister Dimmesdale and Hester. Their inability or hesitation to reveal the secret of their relationship to the public is revealed. It may be because of the effect of other factors, like the societal as well as communal restrictions to acknowledge a woman who was punished for adultery.
After attempting a reading of the novel, one feels that Dimmesdale could repent his action by publicly announcing Pearl as his daughter (though he does it much later) without torturing himself.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel., & Robinson, Herbert Spencer. (1954). The scarlet letter. Plain Label Books. Web.