Scarlet Letter Hester’s Devotion The Romantic movement in American literature greatly expanded the love story genre. In Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter he writes of adultery in a Puritan village. The story deals with the relationship between Hester Prynne, a young bride awaiting her husband, and Arthur Dimmsdale, an inspired Puritan minister who is beloved by the populace. Do Hester and Dimmsdale truly love each other? Hester does indeed love Dimmsdale, but the love is not returned by the preacher. It is obvious from the beginning that Hester loves Dimmsdale.
When she is being grilled for the identity of the father of her child in front of the entire villiage, she cares for him enough to refuse to reveal his identity. When offered the chance to remove the scarlet letter “A” if she will but speak his name and repent, she stands up to the crowd and refuses to give in to its pressure. Another telling feature of her love for Dimmsdale is that she remains in the village as an outcast rather than fleeing to a more accepting environment, where she might possibly live a normal life. According to the narrator, she could not leave this place because “there trode the feet of one with whom she deemed herself connected in a union, that, unrecognized on earth, would bring them together before the bar of final judgement” (74). She realizes that she cannot lead a normal life in this community with Dimmsdale, but even so she cannot bring herself to leave him.
This is telling evidence of! her love for him. She endures pain and torment alone, without even the support of her partner in sin. Even so, she still feels more anguish over being the cause of Dimmsdale’s pain than she does for the humiliation of being branded impure before her community. As she states herself, under questioning by the ministers before the town “and would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!” (64). That she should feel guilt for causing him pain when he was as much involved as she was proves how deeply she does love him. Hester would love to escape her punishment, but only if she can still be with Dimmsdale.
While conversing with Dimmsdale alone in the forest where no one can overhear, she brings up the idea of fleeing with him, and living a life full of love with him in another land. She says “So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy” (181). The world she is talking about here is a world deeper along the forest track where they can freely express their love for one another. When he seems hesitant to take that path, she suggests another route of escape. “Then there is the broad pathway of the sea!..It brought thee hither.
If thou so choose, it will bear thee back again” (181). She is willing to give up her newfound acceptance as healer, from the villagers in a moment to win a chance to live in happiness with a man who has thus far shown her little support. Hester also shows her love for Dimmsdale with her courage in onfronting Roger Chillingworth with her intent to warn Dimmsdale of the threat Chillingworth poses him. She is willing to break the vow of secrecy she has made to Chillingworth, saying “I must reveal the secret..He must discern thee in thy true character..this long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid” (158). She knows that Chillingworth is a plotting, malevolent man, whose physical deformity reflects the deformity and evil content of his heart.
Again she is standing up for the man she loves. In the same conversation, she tries to shift Chillingworth’s malevolence off the man she loves and onto herself. She asks him “It was I, not less than he. Why hast thou not avenged thyself on me?” (158). Other examples of Hester’s undying devotion include the description of what a loving person Hester is, when the narrator states “Hester’s nature showed itself warm and rich; a well-spring of human tenderness” (148).
With her nature thus revealed as naturally loving, it is easy to see why she is so devoted to Dimmsdale. Later, just before she tells Dimmsdale about the threat living in his own house, the narrator refers to Dimmsdale as the man she “still so passionately loved” (177). As revealed by the narrator after Hester stands with Dimmsdale on the scaffold when the scarlet letter appears in the sky, “She decided, moreover, that he had a right to her utmost aid..Hester saw–or seemed to see–that there lay a responsibility upon her, in reference to the clergyman, which she owed to no other, nor to the whole world besides” (146). Apparently, she even values him more than her own daughter Pearl. The question now is whether or not her love is requited. In other words, does this man, Dimmsdale, feel the same love for Hester that Hester obviously feels for him? Throughout the story, Dimmsdale gives every indication that he does not truly love Hester. The first indication is his refusal to admit guilt and to stand with Hester and help support her daughter Pearl.
One of the ministers at Hester’s public questioning, John Wilson, quotes Dimmsdale as opposing him “with a young man’s over-softness” by saying “that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart’s secrets in such broad daylight, and in the presence of so great a multitude” (61,62). He thinks that Dimmsdale is being sensitive to Hester’s feelings, when he is in fact protecting himself. He is worried that, if pushed too hard, Hester might reveal his identity. He does not do this out of a fear for his life, but instead out of a fear of losing his position of respect. After she refused! to speak, Dimmsdale “drew back, with a long respiration. ‘Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart! She will not speak!'” (64).
He is obviously very relieved that she would not reveal his role in the sin. His sigh of relief at his own safety contrasts unfavorably with his lack of sighs over Hester’s suffering. While Dimmsdale does torture himself in private even to the point of self flagellation, he is unwilling to face the total rejection that Hester is forced to bear alone. He does not show the courage and devotion that Hester does in the face of public humiliation. Throughout Hester’s entire ordeal, Dimmsdale lends her his support only once, to keep the town leaders from taking Pearl, his daughter, away from his former lover.
He never forgives Hester, or gives her gifts of money or anything tangible or intangible to sustain her in her residence in the woods. Or to support their daughter. Another telling action of Dimmsdale’s that leads to the conclusion that he does not love Hester is that he is unworried about the state of her soul. He leads her on in the forest, claiming love and agreeing to run away to another place with her and Pearl, but his actions do not show him doing this. He knows in his heart that he never really intended to leave with her.
It is likely that he knew he was dying already. Right before Dimmsdale dies in Hester’s arms, she asks him if they will spend eternity together. He replies that after their sin, “it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter in everlasting and pure reunion” (233). He thinks that he is going to heaven because of the suffering he has undergone for his part in the sin. It can be inferred from this that he must think that Hester is going to Hell. He doesn’t feel for her enough to realize that her suffering was as great, if not greater, than his own.
Hester spends seven selfless years concerned with Dimmsdale’s well-being, and he likewise spends seven years concerned about his well-being. He feels that his self-inflicted physical pain is enough to deliver him from the guilt of their shared sin. She is willing to be punished in this life and in the hereafter for him, and really acknowledges no sin. Maybe the fact that Hester feels his pain so deeply, while he denies the existence of her pain, and concentrates solely on himself, proves that her love for him is unrequited.