Characteristics of People in the Scarlet Letter

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These chapters return the reader to the romance world of preternaturally aware children and enchanted forests. Pearl has cleverly discerned the relationship between her mother’s mark of shame and the minister’s ailment, which share one obvious characteristic—their physical location upon the body. None of the townspeople has made the connection that Pearl now makes because they would never suspect their pastor to be capable of such a sin. Again, we see the problem with the Puritan “reading” of the world: intent on preserving the functional aspects of their society (i.e., the minister as an icon of purity), the people of Boston refuse to make what would seem to be an obvious set of connections between Hester’s situation and the minister’s mysterious torments. Pearl is too young to understand sex, adultery, or shame, but she is not blind, and she has intuitively understood the link between Hester and Dimmesdale for some time. She devises her green “A” as a deliberate test of her mother because she does not know why her mother is shunned and wants an explanation.

The best explanation Hester has for her daughter is to tell her that she has indeed met the “Black Man” and that the scarlet letter is his mark, as the old woman has said. The discussions in the last four chapters of the identity of the “Black Man” suggest a profound confusion among the characters about the nature of evil, the definition of which is an important theme in this book. Hester comes to a realization that her sins have resulted partially from the sins of others. For example, Chillingworth’s willingness to manipulate a young and naïve Hester into marriage has led to the present hardness of her heart. Sin breeds sin, but not in the way the Puritan divines would have it. Sin is not a contamination but, at least in Hester’s case, a response to hurt, loneliness, and the selfishness of others. Thus, the sources of evil are many and varied, as Pearl demonstrates in her identification of both...
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