A third character to explore in The Scarlet Letter is the minister, Arthur Dimsdale. Many sources narrow in symbolically on the idea that Dimsdale is ‘dim.’ Dim as in stupid, when he fails to recognise the evil in Chillingsworth. Dim as in weak, as his physical health declines. Dim as in muted light, when he is hiding himself in the dark of his denial of Hester and Pearl.
However, there is far more to explore here. Dale means ‘valley.’ I live in a valley, and I love the sense of comfort and security the hills provide. One feels hidden away, not everyone can see you when you’re in a valley. Being in a valley cuts off light though. The sun isn’t visible until it has climbed over the hills, and it leaves earlier dropping behind them. This gives valley dwellers a shorter day. Being down in the valley also limits our perspective. We see what we see of our own little area, we don’t get a sense of the larger world unless we climb up to the top of the mountains. Isolation tends to produce navel gazers, and this certainly applies to Dimsdale. He has no sense of a wider world of possibility open to him.
Finally, Arthur is an old Welsh name means ‘bear.’ There are lots of bears where I live as well, so I know something of their characteristics and I see Arthur reflected in this name choice as well. A bear is a powerful creature which has the ability to get whatever it wants, but it can be defeated until it becomes a dancing bear- moving to the tune of trainer who has weakened it, until it has no idea of its power anymore. A bear looks distinguished and capable to some, but the bear itself often seems slow and stupid, going about motions without a lot of consideration to more creative solutions (return to the same places to feed on easy garbage, for example, instead of fleeing to the safety of the wilderness where freedom means more effort). Bears also hibernate. They fill themselves and climb into their dens and ignore the world, stuck in their own dreams until awakened by the hunger for more. However, this is the time when bears are their most vulnerable, for a hunter can pick them off as they groggily head out the door.
Yes, Nathaniel Hawthorne made a very appropriate name choice for Arthur Dimsdale!
(c) Shawn Bird. Students, to avoid plagarism, cite this article as follows:
Bird, Shawn. “Arthur Dimsdale: can’t see his power.” https://shawnbird.com/2011/02/20/arthur-dimsdal…-see-his-power/ Collected (insert the date you copied the information)