For thousands of years, humans have confronted their sinfulness.
Some trust in their religious faith to help with their struggles, some sin more to hide the truth. But in the end, man must stand alone as a sinful creature before God. In Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale has a difficult time finding a place to relieve his sin. The Scarlet Letters scaffold is a place for the protagonist to find peace with himself.
That scaffold holds more importance than just somewhere to condemn prisoners. It is the one place where Dimmesdale felt liberated to say anything he wishes. In Puritan culture, the scaffold is used to humiliate and chastise prisoners, be it witches at the stake, thieves in the stocks, or a murderer hanging from the gallows. In The Scarlet Letter, the scaffold was viewed more as a place of judgement. Meagre … was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold.
(p. 63) Indeed, it was used for castigation, but it was also a place of trial: Hesters trial was held at the scaffold. Standing upon the platform opens oneself to God and to the world. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.
(p. 186) Being on the scaffold puts oneself in a feeling of spiritual nakedness- where you feel exposed to God, but cleansed. It was the one place where Dimmesdale could find complete reconciliation. Witnessing such an event as reconciliation is quite a fascinating experience. But without knowing what is going on, it can also be quite horrifying.
Without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he Dimmesdale shrieked aloud: an outcry that went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one house to another, and reverberated from the hills in the background; as if a company of devils, detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro. (pp. 178-9) Indeed, the townsfolk felt the latter. Drowsy slumberers mistook the cry either for something frightful in a dream, or for the noise of witches.(p. 179) They did not understand that this was his reconciliation.
Both Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbens had awoken to the frightful sound and looked from their house in investigation. When they perceived it was the Reverend in another of his midnight vigils rather than a cry for help, they stumbled right back to their sleeping chambers. Along with this inquisitive attention from onlookers, came the looks of disdain, from Chillingworth and others. Smiling on her Hester; a smile which — across the wide and bustling square, and through all the talk and laughter, and various thoughts, moods, and interests of the crowd — conveyed secret and fearful meaning. (p. 284) Chillingworth might of had other plans, but after hearing what Dimmesdale had to say, Chillingworth thrust himself to his knees and admit defeat.
Although he was a sick man, Dimmesdales struggle was not for life, but for repentance. In fact, his mental anguish of sin is what had caused his illness. Dimmesdale would spend some nights scourging himself, just himself and a whip-like punishment device. He felt it critical to admit his sin to himself and to his community and brethren … The Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, … as knowing that some deep life-matter — which, if full of sin, … was now to be laid open to them. (pp.
306) This act of declaring his sin is one step closer to salvation. The scaffold provides a perfect venue to stand before God with everything before oneself. Dimmesdale stood before God and his community and chose to sink upon the scaffold. Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom.
Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed.” (p. 308) On the scaffold, Dimmesdale openly brought his sin to light and felt restored