Summary and Analysis
While Hester ponders Chillingworth's smile, the Election Day procession begins. First music adds a "higher and more heroic air." Then comes a company of gentlemen soldiers, brilliantly garbed. Next are the political dignitaries, stable, dignified, and drawing a reverent reaction from the crowd. Finally comes the minister, Dimmesdale, whose intellectual prowess is mentioned by Hawthorne. He has changed, showing great energy and an air of purpose in his walk and demeanor. His strength is spiritual, and he has an abstracted air as though he hears things not of this earth.
The focus now goes to Hester and her reaction to Dimmesdale. How far away he seems and how remote from the man she met only three days ago in the forest! She realizes what a great gulf there is between them, and she can scarcely forgive him for his remoteness. Even Pearl does not recognize him because he has changed so completely.
Meanwhile, Mistress Hibbins appears and speaks with Hester and Pearl. As Pearl questions Mistress Hibbins about what the minister hides, the witch tells Hester that she knows the minister also has a hidden sin comparable to Hester's scarlet token. When pressed about how she knows this, Mistress Hibbins explains that intuitively recognizing a fellow sinner is not difficult. She leaves, having said that soon the world will know of Dimmesdale's sin.
Now Hester hears the voice of Dimmesdale giving his sermon; while she cannot hear the words, she does hear sympathy, emotion, and compassion mixed with a "low expression of anguish." He may not be telling the world of his sin, but Hester hears the sadness and despair in his tone because she is so in sympathy with his heart.
Then Pearl scampers off through the crowd in her bright red dress and sees the shipmaster, who gives her a message for her mother: Chillingworth has secured passage for himself and Dimmesdale on the ship. When Hester hears this, she glances around the crowd and sees the same faces that were at the first scaffold scene. The chapter ends with the lines "The sainted minister in the church! The woman of the scarlet letter in the marketplace!" Who would believe "that the same scorching stigma was on them both?"
In this chapter, Hawthorne interrupts the plot to comment on the state of politicians in his time. He describes the early politicians of the colony as lacking mental brilliance but full of "ponderous sobriety." They had great fortitude and inner strength, and, in an emergency, they made wise decisions and stood up to any attack on the colony. Hawthorne even feels they would have peers in the Old World who would see in them the same authority as English statesmen. The people revere them in the Puritan colony, but by Hawthorne's time, that esteem had diminished. He writes that the people of the 1600s had a "quality of reverence; which, in their descendants, if it survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a vastly diminished force, in the selection and estimate of public men."
After this pleasant sojourn into seventeenth century politics, Hawthorne turns the focus on Hester. When Hawthorne describes Hester's reaction to Dimmesdale's remoteness, he virtually eliminates the possibility that they have a future together. In her mind, Hester compares Dimmesdale as he appears at the celebration ("He seemed so remote from her own sphere, and utterly beyond her reach") with how he was just three days earlier in the forest ("how deeply had they known each other then!"). She begins to think she must have dreamed that meeting in the forest because now Dimmesdale seems wholly unsympathetic and removed to his Puritan world. While she can still feel his emotions, she also can hardly forgive him for withdrawing from her and their plans to share their lives.
Hawthorne uses Mistress Hibbins to foreshadow the ending and emphasize the intuitive understanding of human hearts. The old witch reveals that the minister's sin will soon be public knowledge and, when pressed by Hester to explain herself, says that the forest leaves its mark on everyone; even without tell-tale signs, such as leaves or twigs in a person's hair, the evidence is in his demeanor. When Pearl asks about sinful secrets, the witch warns the child that she will see the work of the devil "one time or another."
In this passage, Hawthorne not only describes his ideas about sin, temptation, and human frailty, but he also explains the intuitive nature of human knowledge. Dimmesdale may :have removed himself from Hester's emotional sphere on this day, but she has certainly not lost her intuitive connection with him. In his voice, she hears and recognizes the voices of his heart and also the "low expression of anguish." She may not be able to hear his words distinctly, but she can feel his sorrow-laden and guilty heart. In the tone of voice is a plea for forgiveness.
Somehow the two sinners must come together. To move toward the climax, Hawthorne has cut off escape with Chillingworth's actions, and he ends the chapter by describing the saint and the sinner side by side. Although the world remains unaware, the principal characters are moving closer and closer to this revelation.
College of Arms a group which approves titles and coats of arms for hereditary aristocracy in England.
Knights Templars a medieval order of knights founded in 1119 in Jerusalem.
morion a hatlike, crested helmet with a curved brim coming to a peak in front and in back, worn in the 16th and 17th centuries.
compeer a person of the same rank or status; equal; peer.
triple ruff an elaborate collar
necromancy black magic; sorcery.
plaintiveness melancholy, suffering.
indefatigable untiring; not yielding to fatigue.
disquietude a disturbed or uneasy condition; restlessness; anxiety.