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MonkeyNotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 4: The Interview

Summary

For the first time, Chillingworth is introduced by name when he is brought as a physician to treat Hester in her prison cell for her nervous agitation. His relationship to her as a husband is also presented.

When the chapter opens, Hester's traumatic nervousness is apparent, and a contrast is drawn between her public maintenance of dignity, as revealed in the previous chapter, and her painful suffering in private.

Hester's "turmoil" and her "anguish and despair" also negatively affect the infant Pearl, who is in painful misery. Chillingworth medicates the infant, and she grows quiet and falls asleep. He then examines Hester and administers her a sedative. Hester does not fully trust her husband and wonders if his intentions are more to kill them than to cure.

After mother and child have grown calmer, Chillingworth settles down to "interview" Hester to learn the identity of Pearl's father. When Hester refuses to disclose the information to him, Chillingworth vows he will discover the man who has violated his wife; he clearly wants vengeance. Further, he makes Hester promise not to reveal his true identity or relationship to her. She does not feel good about the promise and says her silence about Chillingworth may cause the ruin of her soul. Chillingworth warns that if she breaks the promise, he will inflict harm on Pearl's father.


Both Chillingworth and Hester confess that they have wronged one another. He says his greatest fault was ignoring his age and deformity and marrying a much younger woman. That this has been a loveless marriage is obvious to the reader.

Notes

This dramatic chapter has Hester and Chillingworth confronting one another. The reader learns about the relationship between the couple through their own conversation. It is very revealing. The mental trauma that Hester endures in private is presented at the beginning of the chapter. In turn, her suffering affects her baby. Both are in need of a doctor. Ironically, the physician that is summoned is none other than Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband that has deserted her. He is also the man that Hester spied in the crowd on the day of her public humiliation.

Hester's lack of trust in Chillingworth is apparent in her doubts regarding his medicines and motives. She, however, has nothing to fear. Chillingworth seeks no revenge against his wife; his anger is all saved for Hester's lover. When Hester refuses to reveal the identity of Pearl's father, Chillingworth vows to find out on his own. As the novel progresses, Chillingworth becomes obsessed with finding and destroying the unknown man. Because he is created in such a vengeful light, the reader does not sympathize with Chillingworth. It is true that his wife has betrayed him and given birth to an illegitimate child, but Hardy presents Chillingworth in such a negative way that the reader cannot identify with him as a sensitive and intelligent scholar.

Chillingworth is planning on staying in Boston. He tells Hester that she is never to reveal his relationship to her. Although uncomfortable about it, Hester promises to remain silent about Chillingworth.

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