Have you ever stayed up late at night, cramming for a test or putting the final touches on a research paper? Some may call your dedication to your studies a "vigil," because you were tirelessly devoting yourself to schoolwork during hours when you'd usually be sleeping.
Vigils take place when modern-day people — or a certain character in a perpetually popular book first published in 1850 — stay awake to keep watch or perform some duty. In The Scarlet Letter, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale agonizes in his nightly vigils, as he struggles with a secret that puts his soul and salvation in peril.
Dimmesdale's tormented wakefulness centers on the sin he committed and the silence he maintains. Wrestling with whether to let his hidden truth see the light of day, the pastor suffers in vigils haunted by ungodly visions that appear in total darkness, faded light, and even blinding brightness.
Midnight's the setting for the novel's Chapter 12, "The Minister's Vigil." In the second of three symbolic scaffold scenes, Dimmesdale stands on the raised platform where his lover suffered humiliation 7 years earlier. No longer able to contain his misery and shame, Dimmesdale cries out across the Puritan community of Boston. His shriek rips through the quiet of a sleeping town, announcing the lunacy that stalks this man of God. Dimmesdale discovers that no vigil of punishment or repentance can release his pain.