Roger Chillingworth is The Scarlett Letter’s main antagonist and is seemingly the embodiment of evil. With every mention of the character, Nathaniel Hawthorne never fails to dictate the monstrosity’s decrepit mental and physical states. His descriptions tend to err on the side of obscene and force his readers to think of the character in such a way. To other characters, Chillingworth’s presence is something to be loathed. Through Hawthorn’s literary craft, Chillingworth’s role in the novel is increasingly malevolent and later parasitic to the mentality of the other characters. The literary genius associated with the novel has allowed it to become a classic in modern terms and will seemingly continue to be one for years to come. With the novel’s third person nature Hawthorne is able to give both character insight as well as over arching understanding in the characterization of the atrocity that is Roger Chillingworth.
Hawthorn doesn’t waste a moment after the individual’s mention in his direct characterization of Roger Chillingworth. Before one is even told of the identity of the “furrowed” character, he is described in the most appealing manners (pg.55). The mystery leant to the stranger dressed in Indian garb, coupled by Hester’s obvious recognition furthers the uneasy nature of the unknown man. Hawthorne first utilizes imagery and simile to abstractly describe the “writhing horror [that] twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly” (pg. 56). This grotesque portrayal of Chillingworth’s outer shell is a shocking contrast to the ordinary description of other individuals and serves as a plot transition for the reader. Chillingworth’s identity is then revealed to the reader as the lawful husband of Hester furthering the dark aura provided by her adulterous actions. Hawthorn also illustrates the antagonist as a cold, leech like person, with “a deformed old figure, with a face that haunted men’s memories longer than they liked” (pg. 164). These scorching analyses paint the portrait of a satanic individual that all other characters detest. This allows Roger Chillingworth to properly assume the role as antagonist and provide an overbearing darkness to the entire writing.
By employing the thoughts of his other characters, Hawthorne is empowered to further exemplify the universal perception of Roger Chillingworth. Upon Chillingworth’s reunion with Hester, it is clear that an underlying evil is able to pervade its way into the minds of the vulnerable. Hester shows her discomfort with Chillingworth’s presence and states that Chillingworth’s “acts are like mercy . . . [But his] words interpret thee as a terror” (pg. 70). These opposing ideas help to develop Chillingworth as an unconditionally cold soul and it seems that simply his words strike terror in Hester’s being.One would think it odd that a wife would greet her long lost husband in such a manner if not for a grave wrongdoing. Ironically enough, it is not Cillingworth’s actions but Hester’s own that cause this uneasiness in Hester’s soul. Chillingworth’s menacing presence, and he understood drive for revenge a lover feels when their partner has been unfaithful is what makes Hest fret over her and her child’s security. Hester worries that Chillingworth’s actions will only “prove the ruin of [her] soul” and thus finally characterizes his devilish and demonic nature. This statement was the nastiest insult of the time especially considering the orthodox and limpid nature of Puritan society.
The procurement of the detailed description that Roger Chillingworth is illustrated with is at the least fiendish. Hawthorne uses his literary genius in order to create a satanic manifestation that proves to be just as his actions forshadow him to be. His grotesque qualities and repulsive nature seemingly repels all those around him; however, and miraculously at that, the people of the Puritan settlement welcome the pseudo-physician with open arms. This trust of their leader Reverend Arthur Dimmsdale in the arms of a stranger seems illogical but further proves the diabolical nature of the disfigured man. It is clear that the unclear reality of the medicine of the time too was fiendish in character and was never a sight to behold. As foreshadowed by his malicious title, Chillingworth’s cold-hearted effect on his companions proves detrimental to our protagonists, but allows a canvas for Hawthorn to create an entrancing story that captures his readers.