The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 13


Analyze the author’s characterization of Dimmesdale at this point in the novel.

Compare the two scenes that have occurred on the scaffold, analyzing their significance in the novel.

Readings and Materials

  • Book: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  — Chapter 12: The Minister’s Vigil

Target Task


Question 1

According to the narrator on pp. 62–63, one consequence of Dimmesdale’s failure to publicly confess his guilt was


the deterioration of his mental health.


that Hester and Pearl have lost all respect for him.


that he was seen by the town as a hypocrite.


his decision to turn to witchcraft.

Which choice provides the best evidence to support the answer to the previous question?


“There was witchcraft…so elvish.” (p. 62)


“In such a case…history and fate.” (p. 62)


“So vivid was…at once annihilated.” (p. 63)


“And there stood…between those two.” (p. 62)

Question 2

What does Pearl request of Dimmesdale twice on p. 61? How does he respond and what does his answer reveal about him? 

Question 3

Compare the scaffold scene described in Chapters 2 and 3 with this scaffold scene in Chapter 12. What is similar and different about these two scenes? 

Key Questions


  • Where does Dimmesdale go in the middle of the night? Why?
  • Note the setting of this scene. What other scene was set on this scaffold? How is the situation similar? Different?
  • According to the narrator, what role does cowardice play in Dimmesdale’s decision to not publicly repent these past seven years?
  • Track how the author develops Dimmesdale as a coward over the next several pages.
  • Who joins Dimmesdale on the scaffold? What does the author finally reveal to the reader here? What does the scaffold represent?
  • Dimmesdale has been associated with darkness and night throughout the novel. What do night and darkness represent? How do you know?
  • According to the narrator on p. 67, it was common to attribute meteors to what source in those days? But to what does the narrator attribute the fact that Dimmesdale sees a scarlet A in the sky following the meteor?
  • Why is it significant that Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale are only united in darkness?
  • What does Pearl ask of Dimmesdale? How does he answer? What does this reveal about him?
  • Who is revealed, in the light of the meteor, to be standing near the scaffold? How is he described? How does his appearance impact Dimmesdale?
  • What does the narrator tell us about the minister’s sermon that following day? Why is this significant? 
  • “A pure hand needs no glove to cover it.” Who says this? What does it mean?
  • How does Hawthorne’s characterization of Dimmesdale help to develop the theme of sin? Of shame? How does the setting of this chapter add to the development of theme?