THE SCARLET LETTER CHAPTER NOTES 18-21 ADAPTED FROM: Guelcher, William: THE SCARLET LETTER: STRATEGIES IN TEACHING: Idea Works Inc., Eagan Minnesota, 1989. Van Kirk, Susan: HAWTHORNE’S THE SCARLET LETTER: CliffszNotes. IDG Books Worldwide Inc., Forest City, California., 2000. CHAPTERS 18-21 • In Chapter 18, Hester transforms by shedding the symbols of Puritan law: the scarlet letter and the formal cap that confined her hair. • She (briefly) becomes the passionate, voluptuous woman who follows natural law and expresses her love for Dimmesdale. • At this point, sunshine – which previously alluded her, as so cruelly noted by Pearl – now follows her. CHAPTERS 18-21 • Taking off the scarlet letter allows Hester to release her and Dimmesdale from their earthly prison. • But there is one problem: Pearl. • In this chapter, Pearl is almost one with nature: the creatures of the forest recognize a “kindred wildness in the human child.” Even the flowers seem to talk to her. • If Hester and Dimmesdale are to pass the test of natural law, they must meet Pearl’s approval. CHAPTERS 18-21 • In Chapter 19, Pearl becomes a symbol of her parents’ passionate act more than ever. • She is a constant reminder – like the scarlet letter itself – of Hester’s sin. • Pearl clearly disapproves of her mother’s momentary attempt to forget the past. • Key imagery: Pearl’s image is perfectly reflected in the brook that separates her from Hester and Dimmesdale. • As she bursts into a fit over the absence of Hester’s scarlet letter, “it seemed as if a hidden multitude were lending her their sympathy and encouragement.” CHAPTERS 18-21 • Chapter 20: “The Minister In A Maze”: The chapter title refers to Dimmesdale’s internal spiritual battle. • The formerly weak, defeated Dimmesdale leaves the forest with new purpose and energy. • He is a man on fire, thinking daring, irrational, and even wicked thoughts. • Even Mistress Hibbins – the old witch – sees the difference in him. CHAPTERS 18-21 • Hawthorne’s refined sense of irony shines again: • Chillingworth says the congregation may find their ill pastor gone within a year. • Dimmesdale agrees: “Yea, to another world.” • We know Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are talking about two different places. • When the reader knows something the characters do not know: dramatic irony. • Dimmesdale’s ability to lie to Chillingworth comes from the same place that inspires his final sermon: the sermon of his life. CHAPTERS 18-21 • Chapter 21: Illustrates difference in public and private behavior. • On this festive day, the people “compressed whatever mirth and public joy they deemed allowable to human infirmity; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that for the space of a single holiday, they appeared scarcely more grave than most other communities at a period of general affliction.” CHAPTERS 18-21 • Even Hester shows little joy, while inside she is tremendously excited about leaving the colony with Dimmesdale and Pearl. • Pearl also demonstrates this dichotomy: She describes Dimmesdale as a sad man with his hand always over his heart, adding that she doesn’t understand why Dimmesdale doesn’t acknowledge her and Hester “here, in the sunny day.” CHAPTERS 18-21 • Hawthorne’s message: No matter how far away the three of them sail, Dimmesdale can never be at peace with Hester, or his conscience unless he publicly acknowledges his part in their sin. CHAPTERS 18-21 • This idea is further cemented by Chillingworth’s decision to accompany Dimmesdale in the travels: Dimmesdale can run, but he cannot hide from the punishment embodied by his tormentor. IMAGERY: LIGHT AND DARK The interplay of light and darkness is fundamental in the novel. Hawthorne “shadows” every scene: The mingling of light and shadow gives the book visual imagery that alludes to the larger, grander conflict between good and evil. IMAGERY: LIGHT AND DARK Consider Pearl’s wise observation in Chapter 21, regarding Dimmesdale: “What a strange, sad man is he! In the dark nighttime he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear and the strip of sky sees it, he talks with thee…and he kisses my forehead, too…But here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him!” IMAGERY: LIGHT AND DARK Sunlight and daylight can be seen as the equivalent of openness, honesty, and goodness. Nighttime and shadow represent concealment, secrets, and evil. But wildness and evil are not necessarily identical. The forest, where Indians and the Black man dwell, is also the abode of nature. IMAGERY: LIGHT AND DARK As Pearl notes, in town, Dimmesdale can mount the scaffold and enact a mock penance only in darkest night. He can freely be himself with Hester only in the forest. And in the heart of the forest’s darkness, sunshine bursts through as if to support the lovers’ liberty. The forest, for all of its shadows, is the symbol of the human heart and inner self. If the settlement stands for society, it appears to be a society that neglects or even outlaws the human heart. IMAGERGY: LIGHT AND DARK What emerges is a novel built on a world of symbolic contrasts. Every scene can become a symbol or metaphor.