Silence and Secrecy: Psychosomatics and Discourse in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

by Lauren J. Battista

February 23, 2012


The deceptive nature of silence and secrecy has long been an integral focus in literature, psychology, and medical fields. For years, scholars have regarded aspects of secrecy and deception, yet these concepts require further attention. Thus, drawing on literary criticisms and psychological research, this paper examines Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter so as to offer critical analysis of silence and secrecy. Additionally, this document presents a reinterpretation of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale using psychological, symptomatological, and theological studies. Particular concentration gages Hester’s diabolic revenge tactic of silent compliance and Dimmesdale and Chillingworth’s psychosomatic health declination aggravated by prolonged suppression and concealment.



Silence and Secrecy:

Psychosomatics and Discourse in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter


“Silence is at once the most harmless and the most awful thing in all nature.”


                                                                                --Herman Melville



Previous scholarship has suggested that Hawthorne’s heroine, Hester Prynne, uses silence to manipulate and enact revenge upon her male counterparts. Hester’s silence affords her submissive power over her husband and paramour, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale respectively, which she yields through acquiescence. Leland Person explains, “Hester’s silence, in part, can be viewed as strategy … that forms the plot and determines the fate of other characters.”1(466). Scholars such as Person have identified multiple instances in which the Hester’s silence harms and/or demoralizes Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Moreover, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale ignorantly desire silence from Hester, unaware that the insidious effects of said silence will be the catalyst to their potential demise.2 Robert Haugh explains, “Hester’s silence … simultaneously aids and frustrates Chillingworth’s plot. By keeping … [his] ‘secret’ she tacitly helps him torment Dimmesdale and might even be accused of conspiring to kill his patient” (269).Hester’s passive compliance allows her to enact revenge through silence, an atypical tactic involving reflexive and self-inflicted torture.3 

Indeed, Hester utilizes silence as a strategic retribution for Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s deviance and indiscretions, but Chillingworth and Dimmesdale unknowingly inflict punishment upon themselves, as well. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s silence secret-keeping and psychological strain are key etiological factors for their physical and mental deterioration; they induce medical disorders due to the effects of psychosomatics. Psychosomatics has been defined as the “Medicine which is concerned with the appraisal of both emotional and physical mechanisms involved in the disease processes of the individual patient with particular emphasis on the influence that these factors exert on each other and on the individual as a whole” (Osler 1). Studies have shown that psychological anguish (guilt, anxiety, depression, regret) can manifest as physical or pathological symptoms and, in effect, can potentially impact overall levels of stress causing an individual to suffer from prolonged and chronic pain.4 Taking into account psychosomatics and its link between psychological and physiological degradation, this paper will show how Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s capitulation to evil, secret-keeping, heightened mental strain, and prolonged emotional suppression leads to health failure and their demise. Using current psychological case studies and psychoanalytic theory, this paper will also highlight instances where Chillingworth and Dimmesdale exemplify the behavioral tendencies and physical ailments which are incurred as a result of secret retention and mental exertion. Finally, this paper will advert to the nineteenth-century perceptions of psychology and theology which are embedded throughout the novel.

As previously indicated, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale may have experienced negative psychosomatic effects as a result of secret-keeping. In rendering this true, however, one questions how Hester is able to evade psychosomatic ailments when she, too, maintains secrets from the community? Recall that Hester’s power over Chillingworth and Dimmesdale emanates from concealment of their secrets; she is able to maintain this power because she conceals no secrets of her own. Contrary to Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, Hester remains true to morality by publically admitting to her indiscretions, evidenced in chapter two, “The Marketplace.” Through confession, she is able to attain both mental and spiritual absolution for her sins. Contrarily, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale maintain secrecy which triggers their psychological strain and augments their impious behavior. This psychological-theological association was commonplace to early 19th century readers who often associatedsecrecy with immorality. 5Readers at this time were likely to accept the connection between secrecy and evil;6 mindful of this, Hawthorne presented the grave, physiological effects of secret keeping through Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, both of whom face progressive health declination.

From the moment that Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s spiritual decadence transpires, their mental and physical health begins to falter. Hawthorne, acknowledging the interdisciplinary commonalities between mind, body, and spirit, uses this novelto underscore the mental and physical effects incited by human experience.7 He symbolized “moral or spiritual disease [through] disease of the body;--thus, when a person committed any sin, it might cause a sore to appear on the body” (Hawthorne“American” 222). Certainly external factors contributed to Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s demise, yet the agency of their psychological strain cannot be ignored, especially if acknowledging Hester’s silence to be vengeful punishment.

The disparity of themes within The Scarlet Letter demonstrates the multitude of emotions that secrecy fosters. Calinescu expounds, “The Scarlet Letter … can be seen as a narrative mediation on fundamental aspects of secrecy, including the related themes of guilt, repentance, betrayal, revenge, revelation” (450). The characters who experience such myriad emotions are likely to use silence as a coping mechanism to avoid admittance and/or confrontation. Both Chillingworth and Dimmesdale conceal their identities, but for different reasons. Although both men suffer from the effects of psychosomatics, their ailments stem from different psychological tensions. Dimmesdale harbors a considerable amount of guilt, shame, and remorse which eventually erodes his physical and psychological wellbeing. For many years, he endures the aggrandizing torment of secret-keeping because he is bounded by his professional obligations as a religious figure. In recognition of the societal burden and unremitting pressure imposed upon Dimmesdale, Lilian Furst denotes, “He has no one to whom he could legitimately speak, especially in view of the nature of his transgression”8(78). Dimmesdale must internalize his shame; “Suffering under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 160).

Serving as Dimmesdale’s physician, Chillingworth acknowledges Dimmesdale’s failing health, despite his inability to diagnose it. He remarks, “The disease is what I seem to know, yet know it not” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 153). Chillingworth unwittingly relates to Dimmesdale because he, too, suffers from unexplainable health complications; however, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale do not incite the same psychosomatic effects—a fathomable notion considering their differing motives for secret-keeping. Whereas Dimmesdale is afflicted with guilt and shame, Chillingworth is impelled by obsession and malice. Chillingworth’s secret-bearing incites psychological exhaustion for two reasons: first, his relentless investigating becomes a mental obsession generated by revenge, one which he cannot escape; second, to some capacity, he must acknowledge the ramifications of poisoning his patient (Dimmesdale) and misrepresenting himself as a physician if his real identity were to be exposed.9

Chillingworth’s complications materialize the moment he opts to conceal his true identity in both name and morality. He appears to be a benevolent, helpful physician, but this is merely a façade.  Readers are aware of his true identity as Hester Prynne’s husband, a reprehensible alchemist and amateur investigator desperately trying to uncover the identity of Hester’s criminal counterpart. His evil nature stems from an aggrandizing obsession to uncover the identity of Hester’s paramour, which is also the primary source of his mental angst. Julie Lane and Daniel Wagner explain that “The cognitive strategy of suppression sets in motion a cyclic process that can gather force over time to make any secret a powerful source of a runaway obsession” (253). Effectually, Chillingworth’s secrecy and false identity as a physician facilitate his investigation, but his unremitting pursuit eventually transpires into a mental fixation, one that is aided by his medical examination of townspeople. His mental obsession elicits severe mental strain which eventually produces physical deterioration. The ties between psychosomatics and secrecy are not uncommon in psychological theory, as Anita Kelly explains, “Psychologists long have believed that keeping secrets is stressful and that it undermines mental and physical health”10 (216). Eventually the community begins to notice his health complications, especially Hester who initially recognizes Chillingworth’s failing health through his change in appearance.

As a means of presenting the idea of psychosomatics, Hawthorne underscores psychological-based symptomalogy through Chillingworth’s physical ailments and darkening visage. As Jane Thrailkill explains, “Hawthorne placed the human body at the center of his romantic symptomology” (5). Yet, the scientific and romantic themes, alone, do not capture the essence and scholarly intrigue of this novel; rather, their interconnectivity with the Gothic is what captivates the reader, such as thematically linking psychosomatics with external appearances and sin.11 Previous analysis has suggested that Chillingworth’s darkening appearance parallels the darkening of his soul, a notion that aptly fortifies Hawthorne’s embracement of the gothic. Within the theme, dark imagery is frequently associated with evilness; as such, Chillingworth’s evilness seems to proliferate the longer he conceals his true identity from society and fixates on identifying Pearl’s father.

Maintaining the essence of the gothic in his novel, Hawthorne also accentuates dark imagery and evilness through the community’s fear of the “Black Man,” a nefarious being who roams the mystical forest with an iron pen and book. The townspeople believe that the Black Man inscribes his mark on the chest of those who sign his book, using blood as ink.  The community’s trepidation of this evil entity is somewhat imprudent considering he only haunts within the confines of the forest—a place often associated with evil. Recognizing this, Claudia Johnson notes, “While the community believes that witchcraft is practiced somewhere in the depths of the forest, the most heinous black magic is practiced with their approval and cooperation right under their noses in Chillingworth’s laboratory” (19). This irony is palpably tragic: the community acknowledges and fears the Black Man, an alleged, meta-physical being, yet carelessly overlook the evil individuals who live amongst them—their physician and reverend included.

The townspeople’s belief in the Black Man not only portrays the Puritan’s ironic gullibility, it also accents the historical and gothic features of the novel. Teresa Goddu contends, “If the gothic is informed by its historical context, the horrors of history are also articulated through gothic discourse” (2). Historically, the townspeople’s ignorance and intrepidness towards evil humans reflects the Puritans’ ability to eradicate “witches” during the Salem Witch trials, which occurred shortly before this story’s setting. The trials remind the reader of historical horrors, but true apprehension arises in The Scarlet Letter through Hawthorne’s presentation of supernatural elements inherent realistic qualities. Fred Botting expounds, “[Hawthorne] demystifies Gothic representation of a haunting past and associated superstitions lingering in the present to look at the play of sunshine and shadow in family and society” (117). Hawthorne uniquely incorporates gothic features by accentuating the townspeople’s fear of the unknown in a domestic setting.  He then exploits their apprehension by creating associations between Chillingworth and the Black Man.                           

  In turn, if we view darkness to be indicative of evil and maintain that the townspeople, indeed, fear the Black Man, then we must attribute Chillingworth’s darkening appearance to reflect his association with the Black Man. John Stubbs points out that “Chillingworth is identified with the Black Man in the Forest ... [he is] a ‘dark and terrible old man’ sent as an agent to bring Dimmesdale to the ‘triumphant ignominy’ of dying repentance” (1443). Yet, aside from personal vendetta, perhaps Chillingworth, acting as an agent for the Black Man, gradually poisons Dimmesdale because Dimmesdale “signed” the Black Man’s book—his signing evidenced by the mark on his chest. Maria Stromberg justifies, “The Black Man cannot enter the community, but he has his agents who live within it and poison it, breaking down its structure and making the people within it incapable of living well” (275). Effectively, if Chillingworth is in fact an agent of the Black Man, then his satanic bidding may have been achieved though the torturing of Dimmesdale, a task that concurrently satisfied personal revenge. The narrator alludes to Chillingworth’s evil agency, “Old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of a man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil’s office” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 192). Chillingworth refrains from killing Dimmesdale because he wants to torture him—he wants to prolong his suffering. By tactically poising Dimmesdale, Chillingworth has ensured chronic pain—a pain comparable to the anguish he experienced the moment he saw his wife holding a child not of his own.12

Satanic duties aside, Chillingworth poisons Dimmesdale as a means of torturing him and to satisfy a personal vendetta, yet in the process of doing so, he unconsciously inflicts destruction upon himself—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Chillingworth’s visage progressively darkens as he continues to impose harm upon his wife’s co-adulterer. His blackening features signify the darkening of his spirit, a visual indication of his bond with the Black Man. Chillingworth’s evil transformation obstructs his perception of self as indicated in the novel, “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 glass” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 194). As he glares at his reflection, Chillingworth no longer recognizes himself; embracing “Chillingworth” has forced him to suppress and reject his true identity as “Prynne.” In adopting this new identity, he yields to evil and rejects all hope for spiritual salvation. This transformation forces him to grow deeper into solitude and secrecy until finally, he relies on “the darkness of secrecy for his own dark purposes: public knowledge of what he knows about Hester and Dimmesdale would defeat these purposes and would, as it does in the end, bring about his own death” (Calinescu 451). It is clear that evil facilitates Chillingworth’s silent revenge against Dimmesdale, but his devious ploy only ensues because of Dimmesdale’s secret-keeping which, unlike Chillingworth, is abetted by guilt and shame. Ragussis expounds, “The two men reciprocally produce each other: like Dimmesdale’s guilt, Chillingworth’s revenge produces the enemy” (874). By yielding to evil and undertaking their new identities, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale embark on an unscrupulous path which eventually leads to their demise.

Even though Chillingworth and Hester supplement Dimmesdale’s health degregation, make no mistake—Dimmesdale is responsible for his own demise. He endures significant psychological strain by concealing his transgression from society, and it is this mental strain that generates the majority of his health complications. Wegner explains that, “People keep secrets from others for fear of the real or imagined repercussions the hidden information would bring with exposure, not realizing that the intrapsychic consequences of this silence can be devastating” (89). Dimmesdale acknowledges the social repercussions of admitting guilt, but he disregards secret-keeping as the main contributor of his physical impairments. Unlike Chillingworth, he is unable to create a new identity, so he suppresses mental angst and tries to behave normally—a significant strain on his psyche. This is not an uncommon psychosomatic effect, as Lane and Wegner explain:

Secrecy is difficult because deception of any kind requires behavioral effort from its participants. In the presence of a person from whom a secret must be kept, secret-bearers must work strategically to make sure that their verbal and nonverbal behaviors do not give away the hidden information… Just as any form of social self-presentation demands effortful control of the mind, trying to keep a secret imposes needs for effortful mental control. These efforts involve a specific set of processes responsible for the successful keeping of secrets that at the same time prompt a kind of preoccupation with the secret that serves as the basis for the many unusual and potentially maladaptive consequences of secrecy. (237-238)

 By concealing his sins, Dimmesdale internalizes momentous amounts of guilt and shame, which results in his familial and fatherly neglect and disregard of religious responsibility. The magnitude of his emotional suppression induces psychological and physical debility, as Kelly denotes, “The highly secretive … [are] vulnerable to depression, anxiety, cancers, infectious diseases, and other physical and psychological problems” (23-24). Dimmesdale’s health debilitation directly coincides with secret-keeping and emotional suppression; consequently, he unwittingly foments his own demise.13

Dimmesdale must appear as a virtuous, upstanding reverend within the community, an enormous effort considering he reconciled sins. By concealing his indiscretions and appearing unchanged in his ways, he deceives himself and others therefore perverting his position as a reverend; “What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him—yea, compel him, as it were—to add hypocrisy to sin?” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 79). With each new day, he must blasphemously preach the word of God because he refuses to confess his sins. He subtly attempts to persuade Hester in exposing his guilt, but she refuses recognizing that her silence both protects him and punishes him. Person explains, “Remaining silent enables [Hester] to revenge herself upon the man who cannot or will not acknowledge his relationship to her” (23-24). She is well aware that Dimmesdale’s confession would undoubtedly taint his reputation and jeopardize his societal position, thus she torments him by refusing to reveal his identity. However, lest we forget, it is not Hester’s responsibility to pronounce Dimmesdale’s sins to the town; it is his moral obligation to come forward and assume the repercussions of his crime. Hester, after all, had already confessed her sins—her scarlet letter serving as a constant reminder for her wrongdoings.

While keeping his adulterous secret, Dimmesdale also struggles with defining his true feelings for Hester. He wants to believe that his sexual encounter with Hester is merely a fit of passion and lust, but perhaps it is more meaningful than he initially presumes. He views his affair as, “A sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 227). Though secret-keeping helps him to deny his true feelings for Hester, it concurrently compromises his ability to distinguish honest emotion. By internalizing his guilt and numbing his anguish, Dimmesdale submits to evil, the effects of which slowly transforming him into a false, or untrue, prophet. As good and evil vie for his soul, Dimmesdale struggles with dueling identities—the effect of which obscuring his true feelings towards Hester. Eventually, his confusion of self generates mixed emotions, which may account for the love/hate relationship he has with Hester. Ultimately, Dimmesdale forms an obsessive preoccupation with maintaining his secret, which forces him to suppress his true feelings for Hester. Lane and Wegner explain, “Once obsessive preoccupation develops, emotions are inclined to follow … Emotions of many kinds could be intensified by the secrecy-induced intrusion of the emotional thought to mind” (16-17).

In a psychological study concerning the effects of secret-keeping within relationship, Tesser and Paulhos found that, “Secrecy might create a preoccupation which could pave the way for the emergence of hatred” (qtd. in Lane and Wegner 16). Reticence of Dimmesdale’s impropriety institutes an uncertainty of self which allows evil and shame to consume him. Consequently, Dimmesdale’s hatred of himself abets hatred toward Hester. However, Tesser and Paulhos also concluded, “The more a person [thinks] about another person or object, the more the original emotions felt toward the person or object is [sic] intensified … Slight positive emotions felt toward the partner were intensified when secrecy was added to the relationship” (qtd. in Lane and Wegner 16).  Dimmesdale displays this type of emotional when he reveals affectionate sentiment for Hester; “Neither can I any longer live without her companionship; so powerful is she to sustain, --so tender to soothe!” (Hawthorne Scarlet Letter 228). His initial adoration of Hester progressively materializes into a bitter resentment for her, but over time, he realizes that his lustful affair was much more than a passionate indiscretion; he had formed true sentiment for her. Perhaps this explains his pressing desire to sail away with her and publically disclose his secret, his sins, and his adoration for Hester and Pearl.

Dimmesdale’s confession relinquishes him from the evil that once consumed him and as a result, assuages him of his overwhelming guilt. Although he dies moments after this final proclamation, Dimmesdale is able to expel all his suppressed emotions and no longer bears the strain of secret-keeping. Unfortunately, his spiritual salvation cannot mend his physical impairment caused by constant psychological and behavioral exertion.14  Many attest that Dimmesdale’s death provokes Chillingworth’s demise in that Chillingworth is without purpose in life—for years his sole objective was to identify and torment his wife’s co-adulterer, a man who was now deceased. Yet, lack of purpose merely leads one to life’s end; seven years of psychosomatic-induced ailments is likely to finish the job.





















1.  In his article, “Hester’s Revenge: The Power of Silence in The Scarlet Letter,” Leland S. Person illustrates how Hester’s silence serves as a catalyst for her vengeful retribution against the men whom she believes have wronged her.

2.  Leland S. Person’s article “Hester's Revenge: The Power of Silence in The Scarlet Letter” and Michael Calinescu’s “Secrecy in Fiction: Textual and Intertextual Secrets in Hawthorne and Updike” discuss a myriad of instances in which Chillingworth and Dimmesdale impel Hester’s silence. Interestingly, both call attention to one particular occurrence: the first communicative exchange between Hester and Chillingworth—while on the scaffold, Hester’s eyes meet Chillingworth’s glare as he immediately places his finger to his mouth, a gesture for silence (Calinescu 451; Person 466). Fittingly, Hester and her husband’s first communicative exchange in The Scarlet Letter involve no spoken words. 

3.  In describing the pendulum-like torment between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, Person indicates the successfulness of Hester’s silent revenge tactic, claiming that “in effect, they kill each other” (481).

4.  in his book, The Nature of Suffering, Eric Cassell contends “Repressed ideas, conflicts, and emotional illness can cause symptoms and illness” (230). He continues to explain that “repressed emotions, especially anger can and frequently do cause physical symptoms … [and] stress is widely thought to be the cause of illness” (230). Clinical Psychologists La Via, Munno, Lydiard, Workman, Hubbard, Michel, et al. have also determined through experimental case studies that there is a profound influence of stress intrusion on immunodepression in generalized anxiety disorders patients and controls. Additionally, Lane Julie D. and Daniel M. Wegner discern in their article “The Cognitive Consequences of Secrecy” that secret-keeping induces high levels of anxiety and stress that psychologically detriments an individual and, as a result, facilitates physical declination. For an interesting psychoanalytical perspective on silence and psychosomatics, read Geoffrey Hartman’s Psychoanalysis and the Question of the Text (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978).

5.  The connection between theology and psychology dissipated during the end of the 19th century. Edward Reed explains, "Early in the [19th] century, Psychology was considered to be a science of the soul … By the end of the [19th] century, psychology had more or less abandoned the soul and replaced it with the mind" (3).

6. Matei Calinescu explains the relationship between secrecy and iniquity as seen in The Scarlet Letter. He claims that “Secrecy is tied to evil-in the gloomy moral philosophy of the novel -not only because it hides an evil deed, but also because the act of hiding is itself evil, leading one to dissemble or dissimulate, to act or don a mask” (“Secrecy in Fiction” 444).

7.  In her article The Scarlet Letter’s Romantic Medicine,”Jane F. Thrailkill provides a prehistory of a central tension in modern psychiatric theory about how to interpret and to treat humanity's often inchoate ills. She writes, “At the time Hawthorne was writing, psychology had not yet emerged as a discrete field of study; as historian writing from within the earlier medical paradigm of traditional therapeutics, and searching for a mode in which "science" or secular knowledge might provide insight into the complex depths of human experience, Hawthorne placed the human body at the center of his romantic symptomology” (5).

8.  Lilian Furst's text, Idioms of Distress: Psychosomatic Disorders in Medical and Imaginative Literature provides the history of psychosomatic medicine. Chapter 5 titled, “A Strange Sympathy betwixt Soul and Body,” Furst attributes Dimmesdale’s physical ailments to be psychosomatically related.  Furst discerns that Dimmesdale’s environment is central to his distress which causes him to experience health complications. She discusses, in great detail, Dimmesdale’s maintenance of secret-keeping due to societal pressures and his lack of morality in committing and concealing his affair. I do, in fact, recognize and support her reasoning behind Dimmesdale’s failing health, but I view societal pressure to be more of a contributor, or facilitator, to his failing health—not so much a catalyst. Dimmesdale’s personal beliefs, guilt, and shame initiate and aggrandize his mental and physical impairments; societal judgment merely augments his self-perceived ignominy.  Furthermore, Dimmesdale’s morality, or lack thereof, is often discussed in scholarship, but lest we forget that his silence, though personally detrimental, can be viewed as ethically sound; it is his duty as reverend to uphold at least the veneer of virtue and righteousness for the townspeople.

9. Hawthorne never directly states that Chillingworth poisons Dimmesdale; he merely insinuates prolonged poisoning: the pastor’s “health had severely suffered, of late” (124), and Chillingworth was “anxious to attempt the cure” (89). Chillingworth frequently collected herbs and plants “in the graveyard here at hand” (148), and “arranged his study and laboratory … with a distilling apparatus, and the means of compounding drugs and chemicals, which the practised alchemist knew well how to turn to purpose” (143). Furthermore, in his book Toxicology: A Case-Oriented Approach, (Florida: CRC Press, 2002), John Joseph Fenton suggests that “Chillingworth may have poisoned Dimmesdale, as retribution, with atropine” (499).

10.  Anita E. Kelly has conducted significant research and presented substantial findings concerning the symptomatological effects of secrecy, self-concealment, and self-disclosure. In her co-authored article “Is Keeping a Secret or Being a Secretive Person Linked to Psychological Symptoms?” Kelly and Yip indicate the myriad of studies that signify correlational evidence between secrecy and health degradation; however, they stress that high self-concealment is far more detrimental to one’s physical and psychological health (1349-1369). After performing a study that explored whether secret-keeping and/or self-concealment predict symptomatology (the analysis/study of symptoms), Kelly and Yip found “longitudinal evidence that keeping a major secret per se is not necessarily problematic— rather, the predisposition to self-conceal is linked to greater symptomatology” (“Keeping a Secret” 1365). Thus, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s health declination may be a result of prolonged self-concealment more so than self-disclosure.

11.  As seen in The House of the Seven Gales and The Birthmark, Hawthorne tends to place sin, guilt, psychology, and physical appearances at the forefront of his novels’ thematic concerns. Such is the same in The Scarlet Letter which illustrates the physical detriments of internalizing sin by means of interminable psychological exertion.

12.  Much scholarship overlooks the pain and torment that Chillingworth experiences and internalizes, possibly due to the malicious persona he exudes throughout the novel. He is unmistakably a major antagonist of The Scarlet Letter; he ceaselessly tortures and inflicts pain upon Dimmesdale. Yet, Chillingworth endures his own personal torture, as explained in the novel, “This unhappy person [Chillingworth] had effected such a transformation, by devoting himself, for seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture” (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 192)

13. Theodore M. Brown presented a historical summation of psychosomatic medicine at The New York Academy of Medicine in New York, NY on November 29, 2000. He established that functional infirmity of the nervous system and the emotional sources that precipitated them sparked medical interest and consequential clinical study. While discussing the premise of Austin Flint’s Treatise on the Principles and Practice of Medicine (5th edition, 1881), Brown explained that, “Flint turned to the nervous system to find a physiological connection between emotions and disease because in the nervous system they could work out a compromise of sorts between traditional ideas linking emotions and disease and the new, nineteenth century desire to extend the reach of localistic pathology. Since the nervous system was enormously complex and its workings subtle and elusive, it could be the locus of ‘functional disorders’, which were characterized by disrupted activity but where no inflammation or ‘appreciable morbid change in the nervous structure’ could be found” (9).

14.  Catalina Bronstein explains in “Psychosomatics: The Role of Unconscious Phantasy” that “the somatic manifestation replaces a conflictive situation and that psychosomatic illnesses act as a point of fixation in a move towards a more mental and progressive disorganization. This is seen to go together with the anarchic destructions of mental functions and the cancellation of libidinal activity, and leads to a state of ‘essential depression’ where the organizing of mental functions … disappear and the ‘death instinct asserts itself’” (64). This type of “death instinct” provides sound reasoning for the immediacy of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s death.























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To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Lauren J. Battista "Silence and Secrecy: Psychosomatics and Discourse in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available June 18, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: December 25, 2011, Published: February 23, 2012. Copyright © 2012 Lauren J. Battista