The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary and Analysis Chapter 15 - Hester and Pearl

Summary

As Chillingworth leaves, Hester recognizes how evil he has become and realizes she hates him. Meanwhile, Pearl has entertained herself quite well: she played with her image in a pool, made boats of birch bark, and threw pebbles at beach-birds. Finally, she uses seaweed to make a scarf and then decorates her bosom with a green letter A.

Pearl wants to know what the scarlet letter means. Hester is tempted to tell her because she has no one else in whom she can confide. But despite repeated questions by Pearl, Hester says she wears the letter for "the sake of the gold thread" — the first time she had "been false to the symbol on her bosom." Pearl is not satisfied and continues to question Hester until Hester threatens to shut Pearl in a dark closet.

Analysis

Despite her pity for Chillingworth in Chapter 14, Hester reveals her deep hatred for him in this chapter. She realizes that he set off a chain of events beginning with an unnatural, loveless marriage. "Be it sin or no, I hate the man!" is her final word on the subject. We hear for the first time her thoughts about her marriage to Chillingworth. He spent long hours among his books, emerging to "bask himself in [her] . . . smile." While she used to think of this domestic scene as happy long ago, she now sees how dismal it was and counts it among "her ugliest remembrances."

By now the careful reader should be examining the differences in the two relationships that are presented in the novel. First, in the Hester-Chillingworth relationship is a marriage accepted and legal in every way but without love and passion. In the Hester-Dimmesdale relationship is love and passion without marriage. The plot and themes of this novel are set in the Puritan society at the confluence of these two relationships.

Another variation on the scarlet letter occurs in Hester's conversation with Pearl. The pathetic loneliness of Hester's position is obvious as she wonders if she should confide in her daughter. Except for the two men in her life, she has no one to whom she can unburden her mind. Hester is strongly tempted to talk with Pearl but then decides to keep the story to herself.

Glossary

sedulous hardworking and diligent.

deleterious harmful or causing injury.

malignant having an evil influence.

nightshade, dogwood, henbane plants used as poisons and in witches charms.

horn-book a sheet of parchment with the alphabet, table of numbers, etc. on it, mounted on a small board with a handle and protected by a thin, transparent plate of horn. It was formerly used as a child's primer.

precocity matured or developed beyond chronological age.

asperity harshness or sharpness of temper.

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