Summary and Analysis
Hester has heard that certain influential citizens feel Pearl should be taken from her. Alarmed, Hester sets out with Pearl for Governor Bellingham's mansion to deliver gloves that he ordered. More important, however, Hester plans to plead for the right to keep her daughter.
Pearl has been especially dressed for the occasion in an elaborate scarlet dress, embroidered with gold thread. On the way to the governor's mansion, Hester and Pearl are accosted by a group of Puritan children. When they taunt Pearl, she shows a temper as fiery as her appearance, driving the children off with her screams and threats.
Reaching the Governor's large, elaborate, stucco frame dwelling, Hester and Pearl are admitted by a bondsman. Inside a heavy oak hall, Hester and Pearl stand before Governor Bellingham's suit of armor. In its curved, polished breastplate, both Hester's scarlet A and Pearl are distorted. Meanwhile, as Hester contemplates her daughter's changed image, a small group of men approaches. Pearl becomes quiet out of curiosity about the men who are coming down the path.
In addition to preparing the way for the dramatic and crucial interview to come between Hester and the governor, this chapter displays Hawthorne's imagination in developing Pearl's strange nature and the scarlet symbol. Like a symphony with variations, the assorted scarlet references in this chapter add to the richness of the letter's meaning.
Hester comes to Governor Bellingham's house because she has heard that people — particularly the governor — want to deprive her of Pearl. Once again Hawthorne shows his disdain for the smug attitudes of the Puritans. They reason that their "Christian interest" requires them to remove Pearl — the product of sin — from her mother's influence. If Pearl is "capable of moral and religious growth" and perhaps even salvation, they see it as their "duty" to move her to a more trustworthy Christian influence. Hawthorne chides these self-righteous Puritans and likens their concern to a dispute in Puritan courts involving the right of property in a pig.
Hawthorne also designs this chapter to advance the reader's knowledge of Pearl, both in appearance and actions. She is constant motion with "rich and luxuriant beauty." Her actions are full of fire and passion. When the Puritan children fling mud at Pearl, she scares them off. She is an "angel of judgement," an "infant pestilence." Once her fire is spent, she returns quietly to her mother and smiles. Her actions seem to be preternatural behavior in such a young child. Her scarlet dress, a product of Hester's imagination and needle, seems to intensify her "fire and passion." Pearl's scarlet appearance is closely associated with the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom, and Hawthorne continues this relationship as the novel unfolds.
When Hester is told the governor cannot see her immediately, she firmly tells the servant she will wait. Her determined manner indicates to the servant how strongly she feels about the issue of Pearl's guardianship. Because the servant is new in the community, he has not heard the story of the scarlet letter. The beautifully embroidered emblem on her dress and her determination cause him to think she is a person of some influence. Hawthorne emphasizes the servant's recent arrival to impress upon the reader the well-known nature of the scarlet letter's story.
Bellingham's house is described as a mansion of fantasy: cheery, gleaming, sunny, and having "never known death." It comes to life as the only interior description in the novel. Bellingham's home is a mixture of stern Puritan portraits and Old World comforts. Is it any wonder that the polished mirror of the breastplate on Bellingham's armor plays tricks on the eyes? Here in this fortress of Puritan rules where men will decide her fate, Hester virtually vanishes behind the scarlet A in the breastplate's reflection. Even Pearl's naughtiness and impish qualities are exaggerated — at least in Hester's mind — as if to defy the stifling, moralistic atmosphere of this place. The governor and his cronies arrive, and Pearl lets out an eerie scream. Their future approaches.
cabalistic figures secret or occult figures.
a folio tome; here, a large book.
Chronicles of England a history of England by Holinshed, written in 1577.
tankard a large drinking cup with a handle and, often, a hinged lid.
steel headpiece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves … gauntlets here, all parts of a suit of armor.
Pequot war raids on Indian villages by Massachusetts settlers in 1637.
Bacon, Coke, Noye and Finch English lawyers of the 16th and 17th centuries who added to British common law.
exigencies great needs; a situation calling for immediate action or attention.
eldritch eerie, weird.