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The Harmful Results of Vengeance as Depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Book the Scarlet Letter

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Revenge: Acceptable or Condemnable?

Living creatures often find themselves at odds with the individuals with whom they associate. In the event of defeat, humans seek revenge on the victor in hopes of satisfying the desire for justice. While this option appeals to one’s wounded pride, several drawbacks accompany acts of revenge. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, provides old Roger Chillingworth as an embodiment of revenge and its flaws. Set in Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, the tale narrates the aftermath of the adultery Hester Prynne, Chillingworth’s wife, commits.

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Chillingworth, supposedly lost at sea, arrives in town and witnesses Hester’s punishment on the pillory with her illicit child and a scarlet letter A upon her breast. Chillingworth’s rage at the sight of her transforms itself into a violent passion for revenge on Hester’s partner-in-adultery. Chillingworth soon discovers the hidden identity of the adulterer: Arthur Dimmesdale, the town reverend. Chillingworth preys on Dimmesdale’s anguished soul and his hatred of the reverend. Chillingworth’s experiences teach one to abstain from revenge because of his self-corruption and the harm inflicted upon Dimmesdale.

Chillingworth’s self-corruption through revenge transforms him from a scholarly, honest man to a demon consumed by his own bitterness. He embarks on this path as he converses with a townsman about Hester’s plight, saying: “’It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of  iniquity should not, at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known! – he will be known! – he will be known!’”

Chillingworth feels resentment for his wife’s transgression, as any other man should, but his determination to uncover the adulterer foreshadows his deterioration as the resentment consumes him. Chillingworth’s decision to expand upon his bitterness leads the way to further corruption within himself; this change alters his physical appearance as well. Hester finds herself in the presence of Chillingworth several years after he arrives in Boston and “was startled to perceive what a change had come over  features,

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  • how much uglier they were,
  • how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen,
  • since the days when she had familiarly known him” (Hawthorne 85).

Chillingworth’s passion for vengeance reflects dark, unforgiving qualities that fill his mind that become apparent on his countenance. The years he spends contemplating revenge draw him deeper into his corruption and transform him into a coldhearted individual. Revenge’s detrimental influence on Chillingworth’s mentality corrupts him.

Revenge extends its damage to Dimmesdale as well as to Chillingworth. The latter’s knowledge of Dimmesdale’s identity of the adulterer entices Chillingworth to prey upon the man’s guilt. The townspeople notice Chillingworth’s unusual behavior: “it grew to be a widely diffused opinion, that the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was haunted either by Satan himself, or Satan’s emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth”. Chillingworth’s self-corruption bestows Satanic characteristics on his vengeful nature; his proximity to Dimmesdale – especially their residence under the same roof – presents Chillingworth countless opportunities to probe the depths of Dimmesdale’s soul and discover the dark secret that torments him.

Hawthorne compares this relationship to that of a leech and its prey. Hester takes notice of Dimmesdale’s weakened state; he loses the strength to carry on and appears constantly nervous – fearful – of some mysterious force. From her observation, Hester “could readily infer that, besides the legitimate action of his own conscience, a terrible machinery had been brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale’s well-being and repose” (Hawthorne 122). Dimmesdale must confront two enemies: his own knowledge of good and evil and a physician who destroys rather than heal. His physical and mental state change, like Chillingworth, but he becomes feeble while Chillingworth thrives. Therefore, their relationship likens itself unto a parasite and its prey. Chillingworth’s extends his vengeance to Dimmesdale and harms him.

Revenge remains a condemnable act, thus shown through Chillingworth’s passion for harming Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale offends Chillingworth through his act of adultery with Hester, but Chillingworth’s dark retaliation fails to provide peace between the men. Chillingworth grows uglier and harder of heart while Dimmesdale’s conscience burns within his heart and tortures him. Dimmesdale’s weakness becomes strengthened by Hester’s desire to escape to England with him and Pearl, but Chillingworth’s revenge inflicts enough damage to kill Dimmesdale.

He dies in Hester’s arms after he publicly confesses to his sin. Chillingworth, who finds himself a leech without a source of life, dies within the year. He accomplishes nothing in the last few years of his life thanks to the hatred his revenge harbors. The ends of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale demonstrate the condemnability of revenge; those who seek hateful justice reap no rewards.

People frequently desire justice in their dealings with their fellow men. Nature demands payment for harm to one’s confidence, but the consequences of lacking forgiveness soon become apparent. Bitterness only serves to hurt the angered individual, as well as the offending individual. Chillingworth’s brutal passion for revenge strips him of potential to improve society and destroys him with the focus he retains on Dimmesdale’s punishment. Revenge leads one on a path to despair, shown by Chillingworth’s self-destruction and its consequences for Dimmesdale.

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The Harmful Results of Vengeance as Depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Book The Scarlet Letter. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-harmful-results-of-vengeance-as-depicted-in-nathaniel-hawthornes-book-the-scarlet-letter/
“The Harmful Results of Vengeance as Depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Book The Scarlet Letter.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-harmful-results-of-vengeance-as-depicted-in-nathaniel-hawthornes-book-the-scarlet-letter/
The Harmful Results of Vengeance as Depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Book The Scarlet Letter. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-harmful-results-of-vengeance-as-depicted-in-nathaniel-hawthornes-book-the-scarlet-letter/> [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].
The Harmful Results of Vengeance as Depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Book The Scarlet Letter [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Apr 26 [cited 2021 Apr 19]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-harmful-results-of-vengeance-as-depicted-in-nathaniel-hawthornes-book-the-scarlet-letter/
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