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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Hester has sensed Dimmesdale's presence all along, though she has not acknowledged it until now. Probably she would leave him out of the quarrel, if she could. (She has never cashed in on their former intimacy to ask the minister for favors.) But she cannot afford that luxury at the moment. Having little choice, she turns to the clergyman with a "wild and singular" appeal. It is, in fact, less an appeal than an ultimatum.

'Speak for me! Thou knowest-for thou hast sympathies which these men lack-thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's rights, and how much the stronger they are, when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!'

Here is the second private exchange between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale that has taken place in full view of an uncomprehending audience. Hester is addressing Dimmesdale, of course, not as her pastor, but as the unnamed father of her child.

Although she does not explicitly threaten to give Dimmesdale away, the implication is there. Don't drive me too far, she is saying, or who knows what I'll do. Her words remind the minister of the sacrifice she has made to keep him in a position of influence. He had better use that influence to help her now.

(Is this the same Hester Prynne who promised Dimmesdale her silence from the scaffold and who has protected him from exposure for so long? The fact that Hester is willing to threaten the minister now suggests that nothing-not her pride or her generosity-matter to her as much as Pearl.)

Dimmesdale, honestly moved by Hester's distress and perhaps just as honestly frightened by her implied threats, comes forward to intervene on her behalf.


Dimmesdale succeeds in swaying Bellingham and Wilson where Hester has failed. In part, he uses Hester's arguments and lends them-suspect as they are in her mouth-the force of his moral authority. He speaks of the solemn miracle of Pearl's existence. The child, he says, is a gift from God, meant for a blessing and retribution, too. Because Hester loves Pearl so dearly, he implies, the child can touch her mother's heart with an agony far more exquisite than any inflicted by the scarlet letter. (Pearl is doing the job you wanted done, he might almost have told them. Let it be.)

So much Hester has said herself. But Dimmesdale sees further. He recognizes that Pearl is Hester's one remaining link with humanity, a responsibility that will save her from the reckless actions to which she might be tempted as an outcast from society.

Dimmesdale's belief is quickly vindicated by a strange interview between Hester and Mistress Hibbins, the Governor's sister, a woman suspected by Puritan Boston (and herself) of being a witch. Mistress Hibbins invites Hester to dance in the forest that night. And Hester declines, saying she must stay at home and watch over Pearl.

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