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Are conclusions supposed to wrap things up? This one surely doesn't. In fact, it raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps that is the only fit ending for a novel that has never invited us to be complacent.
Let's see what happens to the central characters after Dimmesdale's confession and his death. In the first place, there is some disagreement about the meaning of Dimmesdale's last actions. Some observers of the scaffold scene deny the minister's guilt. They say there was no mark on his chest and that he died in Hester's arms to show that we are all sinners alike. Hawthorne, thank God, doesn't support that view. If he seriously asked us to consider it, we wouldn't know what to think.
Chillingworth dies, too. Well, that is no surprise. He has built his life around Dimmesdale's, trained all his energies on tormenting the minister, and now he has nothing left. So Chillingworth shrivels up and blows away with the wind.
In his will, however, Chillingworth names Pearl as his heir. Pearl! The daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale! Now, that is a stunner. Why would Chillingworth want to do a favor for Pearl? Is this a gesture of apology to Dimmesdale, made by the torturer to his victim from the grave? Is it a statement of faith in Hester, a declaration that any daughter of hers must do well, if properly launched in life? Is it an ironic joke, a legacy Chillingworth knows will keep him in Hester's mind forever as an unsolved mystery?
We will never know. But Chillingworth's bequest makes us take another long, hard look at a character we thought we had all sewn up.