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CHAPTER 8: The Elf - Child and The Minister
As Governor Bellingham emerges from the garden, accompanied by Reverend John Wilson, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth, the men first notice Pearl and her crimson dress. Because of her flamboyant appearance, they wonder if she is a Christian child or a supernatural being.
On noticing Hester and realizing that Pearl is her child, the Governor informs her that the men have been discussing the propriety of placing Pearl under the guardianship of some responsible person so that Pearl will be "clad soberly and disciplined strictly." Hester argues that she is best suited to teach and care for Pearl.
Reverend John Wilson is asked by the Governor to examine the three-year-old child's religious knowledge. Pearl refuses to cooperate and acts as if she knows nothing, even though Hester has taught the three year old child much religious information. Both Wilson and the Governor are horrified to learn that Pearl does not attribute her birth to Christ. Instead, she replies that she has been plucked off the rose bush near the prison. At these utterances, the governor considers the matter settled; he strongly believes that a child who can not suitably answer 'who made her' does not deserve to remain with her mother.
Hester grows agitated and declares that she will never allow Pearl to be separated from her. She appeals to her own minister, Rev. Dimmesdale, to intervene on her behalf. Dimmesdale appears shaken by the interchange. He is pale and holds his heart; but he successfully pleads Hester's case, saying that God has given the child to Hester as a blessing and as a reminder of her sin. Chillingworth comments on the minister's earnestness in the matter and again raises questions about Pearl's father. Hester feels great relief to know that Pearl will stay with her, and Rev. Dimmesdale gives the child a kiss on the head.
With the matter amicably resolved, Hester leaves the mansion with Pearl. On her way out, Mistress Hibbins, another historical figure who was executed as a witch in 1656, approaches Hester and invites her to join in some witch merriment in the forest. Hester refuses her and turns for home.
This chapter brings all of the major characters of the novel together in close contact for the first time. The chapter is also filled with exceptional irony. As Hester and Pearl wait in the hallway of the Governor's mansion, the Governor, Rev. Wilson, Rev. Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth (who has become the personal physician of Dimmesdale, who is suffering from nervous agitation and a weak physical condition) are discussing whether or not Pearl should be allowed to remain with her mother. When they emerge from their discussion, they encounter Pearl. The child's scarlet dress, so carefully sewn and adorned by Hester, causes concern to the Governor and the ministers, who consider it improper and unchristian for Pearl to be elaborately dressed in bright colors. The Governor is so bothered by the child's appearance that he has Rev. Wilson quiz the child on her religious knowledge.
Because of her guilt, Hester has taken particular care to teach Pearl right from wrong, forgiveness of sins, and other religious beliefs. Ironically, when Rev. Wilson quizzes Pearl, she reacts in her typically impish manner and pretends to know nothing. When asked "Who made thee," Pearl responds that she was plucked off the rosebush that grew by the prison door. Based upon the response from this three year old child, Governor Bellinghem immediately decides that Pearl should be taken away from Hester and placed with a guardian who will properly raise the child.
Hester's hysterical outburst when she is told that Pearl will be taken away from her indicates the depth of her love for her only child. In her desperation, Hester appeals to Dimmesdale for help. He appeals to the Governor for Hester's sake and says that Pearl has been sent by God as a blessing and a retribution for her sin; therefore, the child should remain with her mother. As Dimmesdale makes his appeal, he is pale and holds his heart. The irony of the interaction is obvious, and Chillingworth does not miss it. He comments that Dimmesdale appears overly earnest in his appeal.
It is also ironic that Chillingworth, Hester's husband, has become the personal physician of Dimmesdale, who suffers from nervous agitation and a weak physical condition. The doctor acts like a friend to the minister while trying to gain a confession from him. It is also ironic that as Hester grows strong due to her having to openly face her sin and wear the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale has grown weak and sickly from his hidden guilt. At the same time, Chillingworth has grown more ugly and misshapen from due to his overpowering desire for revenge.
This chapter is extremely important from the point of view that Hawthorne
gathers all the major characters of the novel together here for a very
important cause, the fate of Pearl. The author also has representatives
from all walks of life in this dramatic chapter. The Governor represents
the State; Wilson and Dimmesdale represent the Church; Hester represents
mankind, in its fallen and sinful state; and Mistress Hibbins, the witch,
represents the dark side of life. Hawthorne also foreshadows the truth
about Dimmesdale, a truth that Chillingworth already strongly suspects.