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MonkeyNotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 21: The New England Holiday

Summary

Election Day, an important Puritan holiday, arrives and the market place is flooded with people. There is an air of festivity about, but the people do not seem excited or filled with joy. Hester, dressed in her typical drab clothing, sets off with her daughter towards town. Pearl, dressed in particularly bright clothing, is excited about the holiday and more lively than usual. Even Hester is filled with joy, knowing that she will be leaving Boston in a few days.

When Pearl spies the crowd of people, she inquires whether Dimmesdale will be there and hold out his hand to them. Hester says that he will be present, but that they must not greet him. Pearl is mystified as to why he will recognize them at night and in the forest and ignore them in daylight. She calls him "a strange, sad man."

In the midst of the Puritans, Indians, and sailors assembled in the market place, Hester notices Chillingworth, who is talking to the captain of the ship bound for Bristol. The captain, departing from Chillingworth, comes to Hester and informs her that Chillingworth has also booked passage to Bristol on his ship. When Hester looks at Chillingworth from a distance, he smiles knowingly at her.


Notes

The description of the festivity in the marketplace without any excitement points out the rigidity of the Puritans; they do not allow a complete expression of joy, even on a holiday. The same kind of contrast is pointed out between Hester and Pearl. The mother is dressed in drab clothing and appears solemn. Pearl, on the other hand, is dressed in very bright clothing and is bubbling with excitement. Ironically, beneath her drab exterior, the passionate Hester is once again filled with emotion at the thought of leaving Boston.

The scene painted in this chapter, which should be celebratory, is plagued by uneasiness. Pearl questions whether Dimmesdale will acknowledge them. When she is told that he will not and that she must not greet him, Pearl comments on what a strange and sad man he is. When Hester sees Chillingworth talking to the ship captain, she has an uneasy feeling. When the captain makes a point of telling her that Chillingworth will be sailing with them to Bristol, she is devastated. Chillingworth obviously knows of the secret plans that she and Dimmesdale have made, for he looks at Hester and smiles knowingly.

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