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CHAPTER 14: HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN
The sight of Dimmesdale on the scaffold has given Hester a shock. She never knew the minister was so demoralized. She realizes now that, by her silence, she has left Dimmesdale far too long under Chillingworth's evil influence. She will seek out her husband to prevent what further damage she can.
Why has Hester never thought of speaking up before? Perhaps because she felt a bit resentful toward Dimmesdale. She has imagined him in a cozy position of honor and respect, while she was all the while suffering disgrace. She realizes now that she has misread the man. Clearly Dimmesdale has been suffering, too.
Before you go on with "Hester and the Physician," flip back to "The Interview," the earlier confrontation between Hester and Chillingworth. You will find that the balance of power has changed. The soft creature who could be manipulated by her husband is gone, replaced by a woman almost frightening in her strength.
If Hester has grown, Chillingworth has diminished. The years have shriveled him up. He stoops now when he walks, and his face has a dark, furtive look.
Hester, noting the change in her husband, is stricken with guilt. She believes Chillingworth's deterioration is, in part, traceable to herself.
NOTE: You will notice that Hester is willing to shoulder an enormous burden of responsibility. She feels guilty about Dimmesdale because she has left him, an unknowing victim, in Chillingworth's hands. And she feels guilty about Chillingworth because her betrayal of him has turned him into a nasty, vindictive man.
You will have to decide how much of this tragic situation is really Hester's fault, and how much of it is due to a weakness in Dimmesdale and a lack of mental balance in Chillingworth. In the meantime, you should realize that Hester is reaching for responsibility, while Chillingworth is trying to evade it. Much of what is said and done in this chapter reflects a very different attitude, on the part of these two characters, toward moral accountability.