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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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CHAPTER 3: THE RECOGNITION

As Hester Prynne stands on the scaffold, thinking of her husband, he appears before her startled eyes at the edge of the crowd. And his first gesture is indicative of the man. Whatever shock or dismay he may feel at seeing his wife on the scaffold, the object of public reproof, another man's child in her arms, he immediately suppresses his emotions and makes his face the image of calm.

By the time Hester's eyes meet his own, he has plotted his course of action. His plans demand secrecy. He indicates as much, and no more, to his wife by raising a finger to his lips.

What kind of man is this who can face the desecration of his home, the stain on his own honor (the 17th century was not kind to the men it called cuckolds) with hardly a raised eyebrow? Hawthorne gives us some clues in Chillingworth's face.


The glance he bends on Hester Prynne is keen and penetrative. Here is someone used to observing life rather than participating in it. His is a "furrowed visage," a face lined with years of thought and study by dim candle light. Chillingworth looks like a man who has cultivated his mind at the expense of an other faculties-a perilous enterprise, in Hawthorne's view. Where his overbearing intellect will take him, we will see in later chapters.

Chillingworth's finger raised to his lips, commanding Hester's silence, begins a pattern of secrecy that is the mainspring of the novel's plot.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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