In How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas Foster describes the literary motif of vampires as characters who feed off of the faults and flaws of others. In The Scarlet Letter, Chillingworth is the most important vampire of the story as he feeds off of the sin of Dimmesdale. In The Age of Innocence, vampires can be found everywhere in the story as they are the characters who relish in the social indiscretions of others. In both stories the idea and existence of vampires is relevant to the plot and are important functions of the story.
Roger Chillingworth is a terrifying character because of how he is able to suck the life out of Arthur Dimmesdale. While there are many vampires in the Puritan society, none are more effective than Chillingworth because of his ability to physically and emotionally destroy Dimmesdale. Foster describes vampires as “an older figure representing corrupt, outworn values” who is responsible for the deterioration of a younger character. Chillingworth is responsible for the deterioration of Dimmesdale, and he relishes it. Chillingworth is given great pleasure from the turmoil of Dimmesdale. Chapter nine, which is about Chillingworth, is titled “The Leech” which alludes to Chillingworth’s power to drain the life out of his victims. However, once Dimmesdale finally admits his crime, Chillingworth recognizes that Dimmesdale is no longer under his control, and by freeing himself of his guilt, he frees himself of the vampire who derived pleasure in seeing him struggle with it. In chapter 23, when Dimmesdale reveals his secret, Chillingworth utters, “Though hast escaped me” and kneels down “with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed” (589). Chillingworth is no longer able to feed off of Dimmesdale’s pain, and he has lost his purpose in life.
The characters of New York society are a vicious group eager to feed off of any violations in “form” and this becomes very apparent to the reader early in the story. Lawrence Lefferts is introduced as a character who is “the foremost authority on ‘form’ in New York.” He pays strict attention to how people conduct themselves in society and criticizes those who make mistakes. May is initially perceived as a blind follower of social norms who cannot think for herself, but it becomes clear to the reader that she is very capable of controlling Newland. Newland struggles with the restraints of society and this makes him a victim of the vampires of New York. They recognize that he is dangerously challenging their beliefs, and although they take pleasure in hearing about the faults of others, they cannot allow Newland to continue. The society is a controlling force who wields great power over others and is capable of controlling their life.