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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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The really interesting question about Chillingworth is why Hawthorne felt he had to clamp down on this character, hammer him into place with nails, and slap a label of "fiend" upon him. Why didn't he just leave Chillingworth free to grow in life and reality, the way he left Hester Prynne? The answer seems to lie in Hawthorne's terror of Chillingworth's hungry and far- reaching mind.

Chillingworth, we must recognize, is a brilliant scientist. It is no accident that the doctor takes Boston by storm. He has the capacity-rare in any age, unheard of in Puritan New England-to observe the world without preconceptions, and then to put his observations to work.

Consider. Chillingworth finds himself beached after a shipwreck, a prisoner among the Indians. What does he do? Does he turn up his nose at a pack of half-naked savages? Does he mutter incantations against demons and black magic? Does he even quote to the uncomprehending red man passages from the Bible or from European medical texts? Not at all. Chillingworth considers the possibility that the Indians may have something to teach him. And he sets himself to learn New World medicine from the Medicine Man.

It is amazing, really. Just how amazing, we can see by comparing Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. How alike the two men are, and yet how different! Both are scholars, somewhat too committed to midnight oil and dusty books. But Dimmesdale is orthodox. Eventually, he shies away from new and upsetting ideas to seek refuge in his faith.


Chillingworth, on the contrary, has a brave and adventurous mind. He has profited from life in post- Renaissance Europe. He has seen nature yielding its secrets to the scientific method. He knows that the future belongs to him and to men of his kind.

And yet, Chillingworth's is a mind untempered by mercy, humanity, or compassion. He is all head and no heart. His probing intellect, as we know from his dealings with Dimmesdale, recognizes no "Stop" or "Caution" sign.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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