Blogging The Scarlet Letter: Part 8 (Chapters 15 and 16)
Chapter 15 – Hester and Pearl
Instead of jumping ahead seven years into the future, this chapter picks up immediately where the last one left off. Chillingworth walks away and Hester realizes something very important that makes her feel kind of guilty (wait for it): she hates her husband.
I’ll be the first to admit that maybe I was a little harsh on old Hester in the last installment of Blogging the Scarlet Letter. However, a moment like this draws me right back in. I love that after nine years of dealing with this horrible man, who tortures all the people that surround her, Hester is finally coming to the conclusion that he's just not her cup of tea. She really dwells on these feelings and decides that if she ever did think she was in love with Chillingworth, she was deluding herself.
Reading about Hester's thoughts feels a lot like helping a friend get over a breakup, except it took seven years, an illegitimate daughter, and total public rejection to get to this point instead of a shared pint of ice cream and the ritual burning of a box of letters. (I am, of course, describing the most stereotypical breakup ever for my convenience. Please insert your own gender-neutral specifics as required.)
Realizing that she’s kind of been neglecting her daughter, Hester moves over to the beach where Pearl has been playing with a bunch of symbols. For starters, Pearl is pretending to be a mermaid (ever the trendsetter, she’s doing this hundreds of years before The Little Mermaid came out) by putting seaweed all over her body in the shape of a green A (symbolizing her mother’s sin and Pearl’s connection to nature.) Hester asks Pearl if she understands what the letter is all about and then proceeds to explain it to her daughter.
Precocious child that she is, Pearl immediately connects the letter to the fact that Dimmesdale is always clutching at his heart. As you might imagine, this completely weirds out Hester, who then quickly tries to change the subject. Some good subjects might be how Pearl believes she was picked out of a rose garden, or maybe a heart-to-heart in which Hester explains that mermaids don’t wear letters on their chests. Instead, because Pearl is so great at pushing everyone’s buttons, she asks about nothing but Dimmesdale for the next three days.
Chapter 16 – A Forest Walk
Hester decides she is now going to tell Dimmesdale the truth about Chillingworth. By “the truth,” I mean “he is really the most terrible man ever that I am also technically married to.” Hester decides that they should meet in the forest, because she has been told that Dimmesdale usually likes to pass through after visiting with the local Native Americans.
If I were Dimmesdale, the last place I would ever go is anywhere that plants grow in nature. Why? Because it seems like people are constantly bumping into Chillingworth as he’s collecting plants for his medicine. Listen to me, Dimmesdale (this is the part where I give advice to a fictional character from the distant, distant past): lock yourself in your room at all times. If you do have to leave, either walk on the most heavily trodden path or travel by giant hamster ball.
As Pearl and Hester wait for Dimmesdale, Pearl notices that the sunshine (symbol) does not seem to fall on Hester (symbol!), but it has no problem falling on Pearl (SYMBOL!). The girl thinks that this is because the sunshine is afraid of the scarlet letter. My theory is that it’s because they’re standing in the middle of a very specific, oddly timed, solar eclipse, but what do I know?
Pearl then begins to ask questions about “The Black Man,” meaning the devil, which, as you have to know by now, means Mr. Chillingworth. Pearl wants to know how he fits into the whole scarlet letter thing, and Hester is ready to talk about it. Suddenly, Dimmesdale is spotted walking in the distance, and Pearl is excited because she thinks that he is the Black Man. Hester, finally unable to take it, shouts that it’s not the freaking Black Man, it’s the reverend.
Pearl then runs away, which, knowing Hawthorne, is probably a symbol for her innocence or her rejection of civilization in favor of the natural world or maybe it’s meant to stand in as a marker for Pearl’s etc., etc, etc.
This concludes this installment of Blogging the Scarlet Letter. Join us next time for more subtext, symbology, emblems, stand-ins, implied meaning and symbology!
Check out a complete list of Ramsey's Scarlet Letter posts here.