chillingworth vs dimmesdale

Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, two of the main characters in The Scarlett Letter, are complete contrasts. Their looks, personalities and how they conduct themselves around others (their countenance) paint a clear picture as to how opposite the characters are. Chillingworth is a thin, almost decaying, man whose age is incalculable. When the reader is first introduced to Chillingworth, he or she “sees” the latter as a stooped, disfigured man with a limp and some other anomaly the reader sees fit to bestow upon him (in my case, very bad breath attributed to his long time with the Indians).

He is not in any way an attractive character, he is, in fact, quite repulsive when compared to his counterpart. Dimmesdale is seen at first as a sniveling, wide-eyed, God-fearing man not at all unlike Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Dimmesdale is as easily loved as he is hated. I love his character for the simple purity of it, but I am somewhat disgusted by what I envision him to be. I imagined a wet-nosed creature that has spent far too long in the dark, and that image contrasts so completely with his self that I feel jerked around.

However, when contrasting Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, I would take a pure, sniveling, small-man over a stooped, old-looking, young-ish man any day. Chillingworth comes off as an arrogant, entitled snob who thinks that he is better than everyone else. He seems to put himself a peg higher than even the reverends in the story, which seems to fit his stooped, snooping and conniving character to a tee. He is determined to discover the identity of the man that his wife committed adultery with.

Dimmesdale is a self-preservationist at this point in the story. He does not want to be punished because of his high standing in the town, but at the same time, he wants to be found out so that the guilt will stop crushing him. He feels guilt and shame and love for others (as well as himself), whereas Chillingworth feels only his need for revenge and his self-righteousness. Chillingworth shows himself as a physician and a philosopher.

He assumes this completely intellectual persona which attracts Dimmesdale and proves to be his downfall. He puts on the mask of a Puritan (even though he is not one) and parades around like some sort of idol that can do no wrong. Dimmesdale knows he has done wrong, however, and though he puts on a brave face for the Church, he is anything but pure. He lets the community believe that he has nothing to do with Hester Prynne outside of what his post demands, and decides that it is best for everyone if he remains silent about the situation.

He is hurt immensely by this decision which eventually leads to his death. Puritan culture plays a major role in not only the setting of the story but also in the development of the characters. Chillingworth represents the haughtiness presented bymany Puritans of the era. Dimmesdale presents evidence of the strong feelings of most Puritans towards impurity (that impurity is worse than death). Both characters exemplify the extremity of Puritanism and its effects on men and women of that time period.

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