The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary and Analysis Chapter 10 - The Leech and His Patient

Summary

In this and the next few chapters, Chillingworth investigates the identity of Pearl's father for the sole purpose of taking revenge. Adopting the attitude of a judge seeking truth and justice, he quickly becomes fiercely obsessed by his search into Dimmesdale's heart. He is frequently discouraged in his attempts to pry loose Dimmesdale's secret, but he always returns to his "digging" with all his intelligence and passion.

Most of Chapter 10 concerns the pulling and tugging by Chillingworth at the heart and soul of Dimmesdale. One day in Chillingworth's study, they are interrupted in their earnest discussion by Pearl and Hester's voices outside in the graveyard. They comment on Pearl's strange behavior and then return to their discussion. Watching Hester and Pearl depart, Dimmesdale agrees with Chillingworth that Hester is better off with her sin publicly displayed than she would be with it concealed.

When Chillingworth renews his probing of Dimmesdale's conscience, suggesting that he can never cure Dimmesdale as long as the minister conceals anything, the minister says that his sickness is a "sickness of the soul" and passionately cries out that he will not reveal his secret to "an earthly physician." Dimmesdale rushes from the room, and Chillingworth smiles at his success.

One day, not long afterward, Chillingworth finds Dimmesdale asleep in a chair. Pulling aside the minister's vestment, he stares at the clergyman's chest. What he sees there causes "a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror," and he does a spontaneous dance of ecstasy.

Analysis

This chapter allows the reader to witness Chillingworth's evil determination to accomplish his revenge on and to increase the painful inner suffering of young Arthur Dimmesdale. The reader is also given the best insight yet into the nature of Dimmesdale's tortured battle with himself. Clearly, the struggle within his soul is destroying him, as evidenced by his physical appearance and his mental anguish, yet he still cannot confess his role in the adulterous affair with Hester. It should be noted that Dimmesdale articulates his justification for his silence, but, in the face of Chillingworth's diabolical logic and questioning intended to manipulate the minister into a confession of his sin, Dimmesdale breaks off the colloquy.

Hawthorne refers in this chapter to Chillingworth's earlier reputation as once a "pure and upright man." His shadowy and fiendish descriptions and images of him, however, further develop his symbolic representation of one who now appears to be doing the work of the devil. Just as he was earlier connected to the devil by soot and fire, now Hawthorne uses an allusion to the door of hell in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and a reference to the breach of physician-patient relationship and trust in describing Chillingworth as "a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only half asleep" to further emphasize his evilness.

The methodical and devious scholar argues by example and innuendo that Dimmesdale should not die with sin on his conscience; confession will offer him relief in this life and the next. He further argues that the minister cannot serve his fellow man while he has terrible secrets in his soul. Dimmesdale at first resists these arguments saying that they are all fantasy. He feels that people have been able to help their fellow men despite spotted consciences. The minister is a match for Chillingworth until a new sound enters the room.

Pearl's voice comes through the chamber window. She is skipping about on the gravestones in the cemetery and even dancing on one. While Hester tries to restrain her, Pearl will not be controlled by human rules. She calls out to her mother that the minister is already in the grip of the Black Man, and she mischievously throws the burrs at him that she has been using to decorate her mother's token of sin. Chillingworth says, "There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for human ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up in that child's composition." Dimmesdale agrees, except that she has "the freedom of a broken law."

Following this interruption, Chillingworth asks if Hester is not better off for having confessed her sin rather than hiding it. The young minister agrees, but remains steadfast in his refusal to confess to an earthly doctor rather than talking with God. Because of Chillingworth's constant probing, Dimmesdale becomes angry and rushes from the room.

Later, the minister is asleep in a chair and Chillingworth makes his dark discovery. The spectacular but mysterious reference to Dimmesdale's chest, at the end of the chapter, is an important "clue" that we should remember when we reach Chapter 23. At this point, Chillingworth has identified his quarry.

In this chapter, Hawthorne further develops an important thematic purpose by establishing a firm connection between the body and the soul, the external representation of the inner character ("A strange sympathy betwixt soul and body"). The reader is explicitly lead to interpret the appearances and actions of the characters symbolically with the description of Chillingworth's appearance and actions as he uncovers the secret that lay on Dimmesdale's bosom. The major characters, in fact, are more important as symbols than real people. If their actions seem extraordinary or preternatural to one's sense of reality, he should look carefully to the development of the symbol where objects "loose their actual substance, and become things of intellect." (See The Custom House commentary.)

Glossary

sexton a church officer or employee in charge of maintenance of the church property.

from Bunyans' awful doorway Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress was an allegory of the late 1600s; the doorway is the entrance to hell.

dark miner worker of the devil; in this case, Chillingworth.

Holy Writ the Bible.

in Spring Lane a crossroad in downtown Boston

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