Roger Chillingworth. LOVE the name, Hawthorne! Just gives you “chills” up your spine just saying it, let alone reading about his scary eyes, devilishness, and general creepiness!
When we first encounter “Chilly,” (as I like to nickname him), he is viewing his wife for the first time in years, and she is standing in public disgrace holding an infant that could not possibly be his. I suppose we could give him some latitude – this must have been rather a shock, and not at all how he had envisioned his homecoming. Despite this unpleasantness, he does not lash out against Hester, but keeps their relationship a secret. He enters the community under the name Chillingworth as a kindly older physician of sorts – a “healer.” Ironically, this healing does not seem to be effective on his main patient (the good reverend Dimmesdale) and certainly is not helping his own transformation.
We first see him as small in stature, with a slight deformity of feature. He is a man of “remarkable intelligence” and “keen perception.” He is “an intellectual and studious man, calm and quiet.” He seems to want to help those in the community, but this is only to cover his true mission, which is to find out the man who has wronged him through adultery with his wife. In Chapter 14, we see some “chilling” transformations. Hawthorne describes his face as having an “eager, searching, almost fierce, yet carefully guarded look.” He even speaks of a red glare of sorts coming from his eyes once in a while, as if “his soul were on fire.”
The source of this transformation is no mystery:
In a word, Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil’s office. This unhappy person had effected such a transformation by devoting himself, for seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence, and adding fuel to those fiery tortures which he analyzed and gloated over.
When Hester observes these changes, she says that it makes her want to cry. Hawthorne implies that taking “the devil’s office,” desiring revenge and taking pleasure in torturing another human being causes the torturer to transform most unpleasantly. Will Chilly’s desires come to fruition? Keep reading and you will see. Somehow, I doubt it will be worth the cost.