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The Scarlet Letter Literary Analysis Essay, Research Paper

The Black Man of the Forest: A Literary Analysis Essay Of The Scarlet Letter

In almost every story there are forces of good and evil that are in conflict. The most dangerous of these evils are those that are not obvious. In Hawthorne s The Scarlet Letter, the Black Man of the forest is none other than Roger Chillingworth. Some may read the novel and assume that Dimmesdale is the Black Man. It may be viewed that Dimmesdale s affair with Hester is the cause for the scarlet letter, but this is untrue. To assume that there was no mutual relationship between Dimmesdale and Hester is a large mistake, as both had affection for each other. Another mistake is to assume Hester is the only one who has a mark placed apon her, as Dimmesdale also received a mark. Dimmesdale s mark is not visible to the world, but burns deep within his chest. Both Hester and Dimmesdale s marks burn as a daily reminder of sin and unholiness.

It is only fitting that Roger Chillingworth, a learned scholar and a makeshift physician be the Black Man of the forest, and represent an evil force in the novel. Hawthorne uses Chillingworth as a symbol of science, which is a common theme in many of his works. Hawthorne s dislike of men of science is also evident in many of his texts, like Rappaccini s Daughter and Dr. Heidegger s Experiment . In both these stories a man of science, either Rappaccini or Dr. Heidegger, represent some form of evil. In the story, many references are made to the Black Man s book. In Dr. Heidegger s Experiment the information about the magic water came from Dr. Heidegger s black book with large clasps. Roger Chillingworth is in possession of a large leather bound book with clasps. He uses it to reference herbs and plants that he collects in the forest, in order to create medicines which he administers. The black man in the forest is yet another sinister figure who carries a black leather book with clasps. He frequents the forest at night and has people sign their souls away in the aforementioned book. Hawthorne implies that Chillingworth is the Black Man throughout the novel by using this parallel, which is a constant theme in many of his works.

Chillingworth undergoes a physical transformation during the course of the book that suggests that he is the Black Man. At the end of the novel, he is described as a changed man when compared to when he first arrived in Salem. He is no longer seen as the kindly old physician he appeared to be during his arrival. He has become a darker, ugly, and crooked version of his former self. In a sense his appearance became darker, as his appearance began to represent malice. He began to take on the physical characteristics of another evil being, namely the Black Man of the forest. Later in the story, an aged handicraftsman who had been a citizen of London during Sir Thomas Overbury s murder, states that he had seen Chillingworth under another name, in the company of Doctor Forman. Forman was a famous conjurer who was implicated with the affair of Overbury. As either a partner or apprentice of Forman, there is little doubt that some of Forman s skills in black magic rubbed off on Chillingworth. Roger may have also acquired more knowledge of this craft when he lived with the savages in the woods before coming to Salem. The local townspeople were very familiar with stories of miracles performed by savage priests, and the application of black magic. The Black Man, like Chillingworth, possessed supernatural powers that were used to spread evil.

Hester and Dimmesdale have both signed the Black Man s book, each in their own way. When Roger goes to interview Hester in jail, she refuses to tell him who her fellow adulterer is. Chillingworth says he partly blames himself, for leaving her unbeknownst of his whereabouts for several years, but that he will seek vengeance on her partner. He vows not to reveal the sinner to the public, or to mame the sinner, but to torment him for the rest of his life. Hester responds, Thy acts are like those of mercy, but thy words interpret thee as a terror. (p.69) When Hester still refuses to give the name of her lover, Roger makes her swear that she will reveal to no one his real identit as her husband. Hester then says, Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the forest round about us? Has thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul? Later in the novel Pearl states that she overheard an old chimney maid, none other than the infamous Mistress Hibbins, tells a story about the Black Man. She states that once someone signs the black man s book, he places his mark on them. Hester replies, Once in my life I have met the Black Man! The scarlet letter is his mark! With her own words Hester suggests that Chillingworth is the Black Man.

Dimmesdale also has signed Chillingworth s book in a manner of speaking. He is led to confide in his trusted companion and physician, who moves in with him. The two share an intimacy as a result of this, and Chillingworth proceeds to probe Dimmesdale s soul. When Pearl and Hester walk by the house containing Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, Pearl yells to Hester, Come away or yonder Black Man will catch you! He hath got the minister already. Come away mother or he will catch you, but he cannot catch little Pearl. That night when Dimmesdale is asleep, Chillingworth creeps over, unbuttons Dimmesdale s shirt, and places his hand on Arthur Dimmesdale s chest. He then jumps back and lets out a devilish cry, which is compared to Satan stealing a soul from heaven and casting it into hell. By applying his trade, the evil doctor helps bring about the invisible burning mark Dimmesdale is forced to bear. Now Arthur often feels discomfort and is seen with his hand on his chest. When he encounters Hester and Pearl, Pearl again makes a profound statement when she says, Is it the black man? To which Hester replies, It is no Black Man! Thou canst see him now through the trees. It is the minister!

Pearl then remarks, And so it is! And, mother, he has his hand over his heart! It is because the minister wrote his name in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why does he not wear it outside his busom, as dost thou mother? Both Dimmesdale and Hester, by signing the Chillingworth s book, have come to suffer at the Black Man s hands.

Hawthorne chose Chillingworth, who s very name suggests a cold evil presence, to represent a form of evil. The man of science, whom Hawthorne disdains, often plays the role of malice, which in this case is the Black Man. He carries a black book, similar to the Black Man, and many other evil characters in Hawthorne s other works. Roger was educated under both Doctor Foster and savage priests in the art of black magic, and uses it to apply his malice. He undergoes a physical transformation in which he comes to resemble the Black Man. To top it all off he gets both Hester and Dimmesdale to sign his

book. He branded both Hester and Dimmesdale with his mark after they signed in his book, and forced them to carry about the mark of sin forever.

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