SparkNotes Blog

Blogging The Scarlet Letter: Part 10 (Chapters 21-End)

Buckle up. This is one hell of a finale.

Chapter 21: The New England Holiday

The governor’s inauguration day is here, and the atmosphere is nothing shy of Coachella. Everyone is as happy as they can be without flower crowns, while still maintaining the mandated air of Puritan sobriety. Hester is looking very District 12, whereas Pearl is dressed up for the job she wants, which is to unknowingly be a physical representation of Hester’s inner excitement about leaving the settlement forever with Dimmesdale.

Pearl lobs a bunch of questions at Hester, like why no one is at work, why is everyone smiling, it’s not normal, and will the “strange, sad man” (Dimmesdale) have the cojones to greet them in public today.

Hester tells her to put a sock in it, and in the most ironic statement of all, that she is too young to understand such things. I strongly disagree. I think Pearl the only one who actually gets it.

Next comes three full pages of minutiae about what’s happening at this block party. Of note:

  • Hawthorne admits that he might have overdone it on the scaffold references: “…the platform of the pillory, already so noted in our pages…”
  • Roger Chillingworth is seen chatting up the captain of the ship that Hester & co. are supposed to be taking, which can’t be important.
  • “A sort of magic circle” has formed around Hester, and not in a good way. Strangers have heard the rumors and don’t want to catch a case of the adulteries.
  • Native Americans are present, and Hawthorne uses nineteenth-century terms to describe them that to us are incredibly offensive. Please view this through a historian’s critical lens. Also consider that Hawthorne labels them with “countenances of inflexible gravity, beyond what even the Puritan aspect could attain,” which is a tiny win.

After 209 pages and probably 75 failed attempts at shocking us with situational irony, Hawthorne SUCCEEDS:

While Hester is just minding her own business in her magic circle, the ship’s captain tootles over and informs her that she will be healthy and safe on the voyage because the crew has just acquired a doctor. As of seconds ago, Chillingworth informed that captain that he will be joining Hester’s party of three.

via GIPHY

Maybe I should’ve seen it coming, but I still feel wildly unprepared for this development. By a miracle, Hester does not vom. She looks up and catches the eye of Chillingworth from across the square, who has consistently maintained this Nicolas Cage expression for almost a decade (honestly, kudos).

Chapter 22: The Procession

Before Hester can even process this information, the governor’s entrance parade begins. For whatever reason, Hawthorne notes that the parade music is “played with no great skill.”

It seems not much has changed since the 1600s since this procession is made up of mostly old, narcissistic white dudes. I wish could say that’s an overstatement. Believe me. But you just can’t make this stuff up: “These primitive statesmen […] are distinguished by a ponderous sobriety, rather than activity of intellect.” 🔥🔥🔥

The most revered of these dudes is, of course, Reverend Dimmesdale, who is sunbathing in the light of all this attention. To the crowd he appears to be in top physical and spiritual form today, but in fact he is actually just five heretical raccoons stacked on top of each other in a clergy cassock.

Hester cannot believe how much pomp he’s putting on today. Seven years ago she thought him “so unattainable in his worldly position,” but Dimmesdale’s current attitude makes her think she’s been living a lie. It’s like that Friends episode where Monica goes on a date with the hot guy from high school and then realizes his he never grew out of the glory days POV. It’s not cute.

Mistress Hibbins, who will soon be executed as a witch (RIP, I really appreciated her), steps out of the procession to talk to Hester. Hibs tells Hester that she knows Dimmesdale has been in the woods (*wink*), and also hints that his “mark” will soon be clear to everyone there. This appears to be a painfully obvious case of foreshadowing, and also ominous as hell. In any case, Hester dismisses her.

Meanwhile, Pearl, who is running around the square like “a flake of the sea-foam,” gives Hester another message from the ship’s captain: that Chillingworth has requested to bring Dimmesdale on board himself.

Hester:

via GIPHY

She joins the crowd at the bottom of the scaffold to watch Dimmesdale, on top of it, deliver his speech. When she looks up from her “magic circle of ignominy,” which is how I will now refer to my personal space when someone tries to enter it, the crowd is staring at her scarlet letter.

Chapter 23: The Revelation

Everyone is “absolutely babbling” about Dimmesdale’s sermon, which is being applauded as his best ever.

Once again, Hawthorne ruins his own surprise, this time with the saddest excuse for foreshadowing that I have ever had the misfortune of reading:

The minister whom they so loved—had the foreboding of untimely death upon him, and would soon leave them in tears!

Subtly is just not his strong suit, and I think it’s time for me to come to terms with that.

Dimmesdale goes from a hundred to zero in about seven seconds. Suddenly, he turns, reaches out towards Hester and Pearl, asks them to join him up on the scaffold. Of note is Roger Chillingworth’s facial expression in this moment, which is “dark, disturbed, and evil […] out of some nether region.” Panicking because his long-con bubble is about to be popped, Chillingworth stands there like:

via GIPHY

Hester never asked to be a part of this narrative, but Dimmesdale pretty much drags her and Pearl up onto the Platform of Truth. He speaks:

People of New England!

Let me stop you right there. This is the classic lit version of Stephen Colbert’s character addressing his niche Comedy Central viewership as “Nation,” except not ironic. In four words, Dimmesdale has confirmed what I think I’ve known all along: that he’s a selfish, boil-brained codpiece who never deserved as pure a soul as Hester’s, and frankly has no one to blame for this mess but himself.

Ye, that have loved me!—ye, that have deemed me holy!—behold me here, the one sinner of the world!

Get over yourself.

The rest of the speech consists of a “confession” in which he implies he is Pearl’s father, but does not actually say it explicitly. At one point, he shoves his shirt aside. The crowd gasps. The reader is left in the dark about what they see, but I’ll tell you right now that it’s not the abs of a CrossFit trainer.

For the icing on top of this shame cake, he sinks to the ground just seconds after finishing whatever that speech was, and bids Hester et. al “farewell.” He dies. Shocking.

Chapter 24: Conclusion

What was supposedly on Dimmesdale’s chest was an A imprinted into his flesh, which in my humble opinion is gross and unnecessary. Hawthorne tells that no one in town can agree on how the got there, but we’re free to choose amongst the theories. These include: he tortured himself every day, Chillingworth put it there via “potent necromancy,” or that it “gnawed from the inmost [of Dimmesdale’s] heart outwardly.” Whatever that means.

And then there are the witnesses who deny seeing anything, and also deny that his dying words had not even a little bit connected him to Hester’s crime. (Wake up, sheeple!!!!!) Luckily, the narrator says that this version of the story is

[…] only an instance of that stubborn fidelity with which a man’s friends—and especially a clergyman’s—will sometimes uphold his character, when proofs, clear as the mid-day sunshine on the scarlet letter, establish him a false and sin-stained creature of the dust.

*drops mic*

*rolls credits*

  • After Dimmesdale’s death, Roger Chillingworth “positively withered up” and “shrivelled away” within the year. He dies and bequeaths his entire estate and fortune to Pearl.
  • Pearl becomes “the richest heiress of her day, in the New World.” She and her mother disappear from the town, but there’s a rumor that Pearl is alive, married, and happy.
  • Hester, in her old age, has since returned to the cottage by the sea. She appears to be running a non-profit situation where strong, independent women come to her for advice on how to live their best lives, so that one day Beyoncé could release the song “Who Run the World.”

In conclusion, I present to you a Goodreads review that accurately sums up my feelings about this novel:

For real, now: Even though this book gave me a total of six headaches and I will not be able to look at another scaffold for the rest of my life, I think Hawthorne has a totally underrated sense of humor that ALMOST makes me want to pick up a copy of The House of Seven Gables. Almost.

Also, Hester Prynne is the original #nastywoman. Am I right?

Find every installment of Blogging Scarlet Letter HERE, and an index of all our Blogging the Classics titles HERE.