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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Dimmesdale's Election Sermon is the triumph of his life. The crowd in the market-place is ecstatic. Never has a preacher been so inspired. The spirit of prophecy has lifted Dimmesdale to new heights from which he foretold a glorious future for the people of New England.

Yet it is a future that their minister will not share. The citizens of Boston sense that Dimmesdale is dying. He has spoken like an angel ascending to heaven, who has shaken his wings and sent down "a shower of golden truths" upon them.

Hawthorne is being ironic, but his irony has a tragic edge. Dimmesdale is no angel, but he is a dying man. He has carefully nurtured his strength to get through the Election Sermon. But now that it is over, he is as limp as a rag doll. He staggers, he totters, but he keeps himself on his feet. Before he dies, he has a job to do.

Dimmesdale approaches the scaffold and calls out to Hester and Pearl to join him. The child flies to his side, for this is the public sign of recognition that she has been waiting for.

Hester moves slowly, unwillingly, forward. She knows what is coming. She is about to lose her lover a second time. And this time, the pain is sharper because it is unexpected. He has come so tantalizingly within reach, and now he is about to vanish- forever.

Chillingworth is equally surprised and appalled by Dimmesdale's obvious intention. He rushes forward to stop the minister from making a public confession. If Hester is losing a lover, he is losing a victim. He cannot play on Dimmesdale's secret guilt once it is no longer secret.

Chillingworth makes a last, frantic appeal to the minister's cowardice (or to his common sense). Dimmesdale's life and honor can still be saved, the physician assures him, if only he will stop now.

Dimmesdale, however, brushes Chillingworth aside. He is no longer listening. He is living on another plane now. He no longer sees a man before him, but only the evil the man represents. "'Ha, tempter.'" the minister answers, addressing both Chillingworth and the Prince of Darkness he serves, "'Methinks thou art too late.'"

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

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