This must be from 11th-grade English. Did not like The Scarlet Letter. I guess I understand why they made us read it, all that stuff with symbolism and motif and stuff, got me ready for actual reading and literary analysis later in life. But this is not a good paper.
The Tragedy of Chillingworth
Tragic characters are used throughout fiction to epitomize the opposition to the protagonist. Tragic characters aren’t necessarily always the antagonist, but they represent everything that is in contrast to the principal figure’s character. Tragic characters are often the dumping ground for personal biases held by the author against a certain race, creed, or personality. In The Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth exists as a textbook example of a tragic character; never in the favor of the reader, never complimented by the author.
Though not always the case with tragic characters, Chillingworth’s bad qualities outweigh his good qualities. Amongst the latter are his talents as a physician and botanist, his love for Pearl, his enormous wealth, and his pure cunning that can only be likened to that of the proverbial Black Man mentioned throughout the book. Chillingworth’s principal negative quality is his lust for revenge upon Arthur Dimmesdale, whom he believes has injured his pride. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that Chillingworth allowed the incident to injure him.
Another of Chillingworth’s fatalistic attributes is his willingness to endure suffering and to inflict suffering, the latter being surprisingly contrary to his abilities as a doctor. No other being, person or character, would consider handling Chillingworth’s situation the same way. This is because no other being would be willing to deal with the intense pain involved in such a course of action. As the books ponders on, Chillingworth appears to be cracking under this strain of the psyche, as the fierce stresses begin to act upon him. He excuses Hester’s role in his actions by saying, “By thy first step awry thou didst plant the germ of evil; but since that moment, it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion; neither am I fiend-like, who have snatched a fiend’s office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may!” In this passage, Hawthorne portrays Chillingworth as having gone classic crazy, insisting on obvious untruths and speaking lies that he has proven true unto himself utilizing twisted logistical patterns. In this, it appears that Hawthorne has no remorse for what other authors might have perceived as a wronged husband vainly attempting to save some dignity in the face of utter humiliation.
Even other characters fail to see his side, which is surprising, this being a Puritan community. Hester says, “Yes, I hate him...He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong that I did him.” Granted, Hester’s true love is being abused by her wronged husband, but Hawthorne does not allow Chillingworth to accept Hester’s pleas of benevolence, choosing rather to portray Roger as a mad fiend insisting that is not a fiend. In this way does Hawthorne damn Chillingworth to an existence of tragedy for the course of the book, choosing always to short-change the man, and never allow him any grace.
An integral part to a tragic character’s “dossier” is his flaw. Every tragic character must have an essential flaw in his personality that causes him to receive the bad end of every decision. In Roger Chillingworth’s case, it appears to be the fact that he holds his pride far too high to be healthy. In his view, Dimmesdale’s blow to his integrity was every bit as injurious as a slap in the face. Therefore, he begins a program of psychological terrorism designed not to break down the young preacher to confess, but to drive him slowly mad, “duly” punishing him for Chillingworth’s offense. This system includes such hints at secrets as “Yet some men bury their secrets thus,” and “These men deceive themselves,” all designed to suggest Roger’s secret knowledge of Dimmesdale’s soul. This constitutes the flaw, the fact that this character could bear to embark upon such torment just for the sake of preserving dignity. It is quite a flaw indeed that forces a man to drastically change his disposition in order to write a wrong with which he has become obsessed.
The third characteristic of the tragic character is the fundamental event of his tragic demise. In the case of Roger Chillingworth, Hawthorne discards him when his opposite, Dimmesdale, has served his purpose, thus completing the tragic character’s tour of duty. He states thus: “This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge; and when, by its completest triumph and consummation, that evil principle was left with no further material to support it,...it only remained for the unhumanized mortal to betake himself whither his Master would find him tasks enough...” Hawthorne’s many comparisons between Chillingworth and Satan serve to bias Chillingworth’s character in the reader’s mind, therefore killing the non-tragic part of his character and sentencing the rest to wallow in the pit of selfishness and morallessness. However, even after such a horrible portrayal of Chillingworth as evil incarnate, Hawthorne does grant him the service of having him bequeath his wealth unto Pearl, a character also regarded as evil throughout the book, who, in fact, declared Chillingworth to be the Dark Man himself. This serves to sweeten Chillingworth’s final image in the reader’s mind. These artful techniques employed by Nathaniel Hawthorne to craft a purposeful end to Chillingworth demonstrate Hawthorne’s genius as an author.
Though the character of Chillingworth may be a tragic one, it does provide a crucial component in the story of The Scarlet Letter. Throughout the history of literature, some abominable attempts at creating meaningful tragic characters have been made, but Hawthorne offers a breath of fresh air amongst so much failure as well as an incredible piece of American fiction.