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Roger Chillingworth was once a good man; capable and skilled in the work he did, and sound, in regards to his state of mind. Sadly, however, as time progressed, the latter of these two aspects changed. Throughout literary works, a villain’s evil intentions often change the character himself. This occurrence is evident throughout Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. In the story, the villain, Roger Chillingworth, becomes fully consumed in his intentions to seek revenge on Arthur Dimmesdale, and thus is transformed, both physically and mentally.

Although Roger Chillingworth was never a very attractive man, he began as a relatively normal person, a bit short and stubby, yet nothing of fiendlike proportions. As he begins to consume himself with thoughts of seeking revenge on Arthur Dimmesdale, his physical stature is gradually transformed. “…Roger Chillingworth’s aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale.” Chillingworth begins to become more hunched over and slouched in appearance. This shows a connection that Hawthorne makes between the mind and the body, showing that the evils and sin of the mind fester and plague the body. “At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight, the oftener they looked upon him.” Not only had Chillingworth encountered a change in his stature, but his facial appearance had undergone a dramatic change as well. This reflects more of the Puritan mindset as to how man’s sin is always connected to his physical being. “The unfortunate physician…lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognize, usurping the place of his own image in a glass…Not improbably, he had never before viewed himself as he did now.” As time transgressed, the physician’s facade became one which was utterly painful to the eye. Chillingworth’s exterior had become so deformed that even he, himself, was startled by his image. The connections which Hawthorne makes between sin and the physical health of man are directly embodied in Chillingworth’s character. His personage is crucial in illustrating how evil and revenge can distort a man physically.

While Chillingworth’s physical appearance corrodes, the health of mind too, falls. “Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven and won into his kingdom.” The leech transforms from an upright man, calm in temperament and kindly to a man of devilish personage. His being is fully consumed in seeking vengeance and, thus, exhorts evil in all acts which he commits. “He became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief actor in the poor minister’s interior world. He could play upon him as he chose.” In his mind, his actions are justified and breech past all boundaries that are set by man. A man who was once just, had turned into the epitome of evil. “…almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale’s death…All his [Chillingworth] strength and energy–all his vital and intellectual force–seemed at once to desert him.” The sole thing which drove Chillingworth to live on, was the revenge he sought on the reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. His death came about less than a year after Dimmesdale has passed away; Chillingworth no longer had any purpose in life.

Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne sets forth the notion that revenge can be a very destructive force, and uses old Roger Chillingworth to send forth this message. Chillingworth conforms to his theory and exemplifies all the attributes of a man who has been tainted by evil. Through this character, Hawthorne shows the extent of damage that is done and the price that is paid, all for the satisfaction of sweet revenge.


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