Conflict in The Scarlet Letter
Although Chillingworth is talking about the discrepancies between their physical appearances, this is also a metaphor for conflict between good and evil (Hester a symbol for good and Chillingworth a symbol for evil). Notice how the conflict between these two attributes recur throughout the novel.
Chillingworth has been trying to get Dimmesdale to admit to a sin that perhaps he did not commit. Here, Dimmesdale loses his patience and calm demeanor by undercutting Chillingworth’s status as a doctor while Chillingworth continues to try to guilt the reverend into a confession.
The conflict between human nature and the laws of religious society has recurred throughout the story. This embodies the emerging message that Hawthorne tries to convey in this novel: human nature is inherently good, and the laws constructed by religious societies obstruct that goodness.
Chillingworth uses his medical knowledge to keep Dimmesdale alive despite his failing health, because he wants Dimmesdale to live a long life full of guilt and fear. These actions directly contrast with how Hester and Pearl view and symbolize the natural world: Chillingworth uses artificial means to achieve his ends.
The conflict between what is real and perceived is a persistent theme in the story, most notably through Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Dimmesdale believes that his false projection as an honest and holy man is one of his greatest sins; however, he fears the townspeople’s ridicule too much to reveal his sin and scarlet letter, and his internal conflict and struggle continues to eat away at him.