The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary and Analysis Chapter 13 - Another View of Hester

Summary

Following her conversation with Dimmesdale on the scaffold, Hester is shocked by the changes in him. While he seems to have retained his intelligence, his nerve is gone. He is morally weak, and she can only conclude that "a terrible machinery had been brought to bear, and was still operating on Mr. Dimmesdale's well-being and repose." Hester decides she has an obligation to help this man.

Four years have gone by, and Hester's position in the community has changed: She has been given credit for bearing her shame with courage, and her life has been one of purity since Pearl's birth. While Dimmesdale's sermons have become more humane and praised because of his suffering, Hester's position has risen because of her charity. Her scarlet A now stands for "Able." But this has come with a price: no friends, no passion, no love or affection.

Through adversity, Hester has forged a new place for herself on the edge of Puritan society. In contrast, Dimmesdale's mental balance has suffered greatly. Now she must help the man who seems to be on "the verge of lunacy." In fact, she feels it has been an error on her part not to step forward before. So she resolves to speak with her husband.

Analysis

It is important to note the chapter title: "Another View of Hester." This chapter is a discussion of Hester's personality, character, and intellect as well as a summary and an update of her past four years (Pearl is now seven). This "other view" refers to both the changing perception of the Puritan community toward Hester and the narrator's telling description of her.

Hester's position in the eyes of the Puritan community has changed considerably due to her grace and her charity. She has borne her shame and sorrow with great dignity. The town describes her now as one "who is so kind to the poor, helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!" Now the scarlet letter has magical qualities, and myths are growing around its power. But this new definition of Hester Prynne is not without a price. Her luxuriant beauty, and the warmth, charm, and passion that she once showed have been replaced by coldness, severity, and drabness. There is no affection, love, or passion in her life. Her humanity has been stripped from her by the severity of her punishment, and her charity and benevolence seem mechanical. No one crosses the threshold of her cottage in friendship. To add to this burden, her daughter seems to have been "born amiss."

Another view of Hester identified in the chapter title is that of the narrator, not the Puritan community. Her life, having "changed from passion and feeling to thought . . . she assumed a freedom of speculation . . . which [the Puritans], had they known it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet letter." The narrator speculates that, had it not been for her responsibilities to little Pearl, Hester "might have come down to us in history, hand in hand with Anne Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect" and quite probably would have been executed for "attempting to undermine the foundations of the Puritan establishment." Tellingly, the narrator remarks, "The scarlet letter had not done its office."

This chapter also describes Hester's motive in speaking with Chillingworth, a conversation that will take place in the next chapter. Having seen the terrible toll Chillingworth is taking on Dimmesdale, she decides that she is partly to blame. Now she must do something to redeem her error in not identifying him to her former lover.

Glossary

pristine original or characteristic of an earlier period.

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