In Chapter Ten, when Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates the transformation of Roger Chillingworth from an unoffending man to a leech-like character seeking revenge on his host, Dimmesdale, the author implements comparisons along with specific word choice to characterize Chillingworth. His personality in the reader’s eyes metamorphoses into one of a fiendish parasite due to Hawthorne’s application of comparisons and connotations relating to both leeches and Satan. Together these literary techniques develop Chillingworth’s mutation from an upstanding citizen to a devilish bloodsucker and depict his relentless obsession with vengeance.
Hawthorne integrates similes and metaphors into his unveiling of Chillingworth as a less righteous man than originally believed to aid characterization. His examination of Dimmesdale is begun “with the severe and equal integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines and figures of a geometrical problem” (Hawthorne 3-5). The comparison of Chillingworth’s investigation to that of a judge is a metaphor, while the juxtaposition of the question at hand to a geometrical problem is a simile.
Hawthorne goes on to convey that, as the inquiry continues, Chillingworth’s methods grow more like that of “a miner searching for gold; or, rather, […] a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom,” (9-10). The similes reveal that the doctor’s pursuit of knowledge is no longer innocent, portraying Chillingworth as obsessive in the searching of Dimmesdale’s soul. The comparison of Chillingworth to a miner is extended when Dimmesdale is compared to the soil he mines (16).
In addition, the “jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom” symbolizes the supposed match to Hester’s embroidered A on the minister’s chest. The metaphor foreshadows Chillingworth’s discovery of something on Dimmesdale’s breast at the climax of the chapter. Yet another simile is used to describe the physician when the light gleaming from his eyes is likened to “a furnace, or […] one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan’s awful door-way in the hill-side,” (14-15). The simile provides visual imagery and hints that Chillingworth is evil by the notion that the eyes reveal a man’s true nature.
The final metaphor again equates Chillingworth to a leech, in which he calls, ‘“Let us dig a little farther in the direction of this vein! ”’ (20). Together, these similes and metaphors highlight Roger Chillingworth’s leech-like and hellish qualities in his attempt to gain revenge on Dimmesdale. Word choice plays an integral part in Hawthorne’s characterization of Chillingworth, as connotation suggests the physician is one with the Devil. Chillingworth’s name alone evokes the kinesthetic imagery of chills. The surname informs the reader that the doctor is a coldhearted man.
Suggestions abound that Chillingworth is satanic due to diction alone. The necessity to gain knowledge pertaining to Dimmesdale “seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free again until he had done all its bidding” (7-8). The connotation of bidding relates to the Devil, who is believed to possess men and force them to do his dirty work. Again, Chillingworth is compared to the Fiend when his eyes are said to be “burning blue and ominous, like the reflection of a furnace, or […] like [a gleam] of ghastly fire” (13-14). Burning, furnace, and ghastly fire all imply that Chillingworth is demonic.
Hawthone indicates that “[h]e now dug into the poor clergyman’s heart,” continuing the extended metaphor of Chillingworth’s relation to a leech with the connotation of dug (8-9). The word depicts teeth digging into flesh in the reader’s mind. Hawthorne’s integration of diction into the novel assists in characterizing Chillingworth as a parasitic demon. The development of Chillingworth’s character is the main purpose of the chapter, and Hawthorne describes his personality before and after the doctor’s obsession with Dimmesdale’s inner thoughts.
Hawthorne’s depiction of Chillingworth extends that “throughout life, [he] had been calm in temperament, kindly, though not of warm affections, but ever, and in all his relations with the world, a pure and upright man” (1-3). However, after the tale of Hester’s abandonment of her husband surfaces, his personality takes a turn for the worse. He is said to be “desirous only of truth,” which overwhelms the man’s life. His “terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, though still calm, necessity,” with revenge on Dimmesdale, “seized the old man within its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had done all its bidding” (7-8).
The personification shines a light on how his need for knowledge of the identity of Hester’s lover takes control of Chillingworth’s life. The aforementioned relations to a miner and sexton also characterize his endless search. The chapter is a commentary on how too strong of a thirst for knowledge can be detrimental, a common belief in the setting, where scientific advances were frowned upon for fear of questioning God’s power. The characterization of Chillingworth is an essential literary technique infused into the novel.
Hawthorne’s utilization of comparisons, connotation, and characterization transform Chillingworth from a respected medicine man with a religious background spiraled into that of a Devil’s servant, attempting to take the soul of one of God’s ministers, after Hester’s infidelity was revealed. The literary techniques identify Chillingworth as the antagonist of the novel by comparing him to both a leech and a devil. Hawthorne’s employment of these devices enriches the text and thoroughly brings Chillingworth to life in the reader’s mind.