||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (October 2012)|
Roger Prynne known as Roger Chillingworth is a fictional character in the 1851 novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the story, he is the estranged husband of Hester Prynne, who reappears under the assumed name Roger Chillingworth, and proceeds to plot against Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale, and becomes an embodiment of evil, as his physical appearance shifts.
Although few details are stated about Roger's past, Hawthorne makes it obvious that he was a withdrawn intellectual whose social ineptitude got in the way of his passions. Hawthorne goes all the way in portraying Chillingworth as a classic cerebral man; even his deformed body, of which "one shoulder was slightly higher than the other," acts as a symbol of his inability to deal with the physical world.
Chillingworth's importance in the story pertains to his marriage to Hester Prynne, a much younger woman whom he likely wedded by arrangement. Although Chillingworth loves her deeply, his absent-minded preoccupation and old age make him an inattentive and distant husband. Chillingworth sends Hester ahead of him to the New World while he finishes some unspecified business in Europe, but is delayed in following her by a shipwreck and subsequent capture by Indians. Chillingworth is forced to spend many months convincing the Indians to release him. He joyously rushes to the town of Boston where his wife has been waiting, only to find her being publicly shamed and imprisoned for the crime of adultery, with a newborn baby in her arms.
Chillingworth visits Hester during her brief incarceration, where he berates her for having crushed his dreams of finding acceptance and love ("My heart was a great mansion with room for many souls, but cold and empty and without a parlor fire; I longed to light one!"). While he makes it obvious he will not take revenge upon her or the baby, he demands to know the name of Hester's lover. She refuses to tell him, but Chillingworth promises that he will find the man and destroy his soul.
Chillingworth establishes himself as the town physician, upon whom the townsfolk look with both respect of his knowledge and fear of his eccentric, bitter demeanor. Soon, the townsfolk request that Chillingworth look after the well-being of Arthur Dimmesdale, the depressed town reverend, and determine what is causing his inner darkness. Chillingworth quickly discovers that Dimmesdale's melancholy is a result of guilt from having sinned, namely by sleeping with Hester and causing her pregnancy.
Learning this catalyzes a profound change in Chillingworth. Although insular and spiteful to begin with, his discovery of the man who has taken everything from him mutates Chillingworth into a true madman, a "...mortal who has taken a fiend's office." His appearance is also affected, as his deformed shoulders twist into an even grosser state of irregularity, his face wrinkles and withers, and his eyes burn with hellish determination. From this day forward, Roger Chillingworth makes the torment of Dimmesdale the center of his life. Moving in with Dimmesdale, he uses his knowledge of psychology to intensify the reverend's guilt, pushing him deeper and deeper into self-loathing and despair. All the while, Dimmesdale's growing popularity among the townsfolk spurs Chillingworth's jealousy and hate, causing him to torture Dimmesdale all the more.
After attempting (in vain) to persuade Chillingworth to stop his abuse of Dimmesdale, Hester tells the reverend of his physician's true identity, and gets him to agree to leave America with her. Chillingworth, who at this point has made the destruction of Dimmesdale the only thing in his life, is desperate to prevent Dimmesdale from "winning" by escaping his clutches. Thus, Chillingworth buys passage on the same ship that Hester and Dimmesdale are taking, to make sure that Dimmesdale's punishment for stealing his life's dream is absolute. Chillingworth is beyond repair at this point; he has so abandoned his hope of finding peace and contentment that he is no longer capable of feeling anything but spite and revenge.
Thus, it is perhaps to Chillingworth's benefit that Dimmesdale suddenly confesses his crime to the entire town before dying of heart failure resulting from emotional trauma. The loss of his victim both redeems and dooms Chillingworth. Although he now has nothing to live for at all and must soon die, the corrupting devil of spite is removed from his soul. The last thing he does before passing away is write his will, which leaves his vast fortune in the hands of Hester and Dimmesdale's seven year old daughter, Pearl.
It would seem that, at the cost of his own life, Chillingworth regains his power to do good. It is also possible that by making Pearl the beneficiary of his will, he was only manifesting his long-held love for Hester and completing his revenge on Dimmesdale by being a better father to his daughter.