The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Contributed by Tereasa Jacob
Chapter 7-8
Summary

Summary—Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall

Hester is worried that the town fathers are thinking about taking Pearl away from her. She has reason to believe that the governor of the colony, Governor Bellingham, is considering sanctioning this. She must go to his mansion to deliver a pair of gloves that she has made for the governor, so she decides she will use that opportunity to find out where she stands. On Hester and Pearl’s way to the governor’s mansion, a group of children throw mud at them. An angry Pearl, now three years old, scares them away. The reason why the governor and townspeople are thinking about taking Pearl away from Hester is that they suspect she might be a demon-child. They feel that if that is true, Hester will not be able to handle her. They’ve decided that if she turns out to be a human child, they should find her a better home than with Hester, in any case.

When they arrive at the mansion, they find it to be large and grand. It seems like a house of the English aristocracy, and there is even a suit of armor present. It is said that it was worn by the governor when fighting Native Americans. Pearl and Hester look at the suit of armor, which is so shiny that they can see their reflections. The red of Hester’s “A” is most visible, and she finds this unnerving. Pearl notices that there is a rose bush outside a window, and she demands one of the flowers. She screams for a rose, but stops when men enter the room.

Summary—Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister

The men who enter the room are Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, Wilson, and Bellingham. They only see Pearl at first, and they start to say that she is a demon-child. When they realize that Hester is also there, they demand that she explain why she should have the right to keep Pearl living with her. Hester explains that she can use the terrible mistakes she has made in her life to teach Pearl to be a better person and stay on a moral path. Wilson says that he must test Pearl to determine how much she knows about religion. Pearl refuses to answer the questions.

Terrified of losing her child, Hester appeals to Dimmesdale’s mercy. He tries to help, telling the other men that God chose to give Pearl to Hester and that there must have been a higher reason for this. Pearl was meant to be a curse as well as a blessing. This approach works, and it is agreed that Pearl will remain with her mother. Pearl evidently likes Dimmesdale; she takes his hand and touches her cheek with it. Chillingworth is frustrated, worried he will never get his revenge. He suggests that there should be further investigation to find out the name of the father of the child. The other men say that this is unnecessary, as it is up to God to decide when this will be ascertained. Hester prepares to leave the mansion. While doing so, the governor’s sister (Mistress Hibbins) asks Hester to attend a witches’ gathering. Hester says no, but admits that if Pearl had been taken from her, she would have gone.

Analysis

Pearl’s connection to the scarlet letter Hester wears is made even clearer in these chapters. We see that Hester chooses to dress her daughter in a crimson velvet dress with fancy embroidery in gold thread. This is the antithesis of Puritan plainness. We read that Pearl is “the scarlet letter endowed with life.” The link between Pearl and the letter is also evident in how Hester sees her as both a blessing and a burden. The narrator explains that Hester has created “an analogy between the object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture.” Pearl and the letter, and Hester’s attitude toward both things, are intrinsically contradictory. They combine both positive and negative characteristics; for example, affection and sin.

Pearl and the letter also have more than one meaning for the town fathers. Both the letter and Pearl serve to remind the townspeople of sin and in that way to protect against evil in the future. Dimmesdale has explained that there is no possibility of them being able to fully resolve Pearl’s contradictory nature, as only God fully understands why the child was given to Hester and what the plan really is. It is impossible for humans to know God’s intentions.

There is a great deal of symbolism inherent in the governor’s mansion. As it has many similarities to the home of an English nobleman, and it has portraits of Governor Bellingham’s ancestors on display, it is clear that the governor has resisted the idea of fully leaving Europe behind in his mind and spirit. He has brought the old world into America, and Puritan culture has failed to leave behind the lack of freedom and intolerance of England. The governor’s attempts to transplant aspects of English culture into America is also symbolized by his garden. The garden has been unsuccessful and is in a terrible state, as the plants he has tried to grow there have not been able to flourish in the alien environment. He wanted an English ornamental garden, but it just wasn’t possible. Instead, there are only pumpkins, cabbages, and rosebushes. The rosebushes are dual-faceted, as roses has both beautiful petals and thorns. Another reason why the garden might be in such a state of decay is the fact that Bellingham is an inadequate person how cannot nourish a living thing.

The suit of armor that is found in the governor’s mansion also has significance. Armor, of course, is a symbol of battle and war, yet we find that Bellingham is not a solider but rather a lawyer. Perhaps it is being suggested that the governor is not really qualified for his role as a governor in a new country. He has his armor on display, but it is inappropriate to him and he is not able to use it as his role requires. The armor also provides distorted images to Hester and Pearl when they gaze into it. Perhaps this indicates Hester and her daughter’s position as outcasts in the place where they live.

A circumstance pointing to the inherent unfairness of the society in which Hester lives is the fact that Mistress Hibbins, the governor’s sister, is known to practice witchcraft and has not suffered any punishment or social exclusion. Hester has been banished forever because of one transgression, but she does not have the social position that belongs to a governor’s sister. This shows how hypocritical this Puritan group is, as they claimed to have left Europe to get away from the unfair class system and similar kinds of oppression.

Pearl’s extraordinary wisdom for a young child is evident in how she points out images and discrepancies to her mother. She seems to have a startling level of spiritual insight and sort of functions as a source or oracle of truth. While she and her mother are in the governor’s mansion, she feels so uneasy that she tries to flee through a window. She senses that Dimmesdale is on her side while Wilson isn’t, seeming to sense that he is her “earthly” father and not caring as much about her “heavenly” one. She seems to have a great degree of insight into people and their motivations.

As we will later find out, Dimmesdale, although he is too cowardly to own up to his guilt at this point, will be loyal to Hester and Pearl.

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