SparkNotes Blog

Blogging The Scarlet Letter: Part 4 (Chapters 7-8)

Previously in Blogging The Scarlet Letter, Hester and Pearl were released from prison. Besides having no friends, they’re doing alright for themselves.

Find every installment here!

Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall

Hester is making a trip to Governor Bellingham’s mansion for a few reasons:

  • She has to deliver a pair of embroidered gloves he ordered from her Etsy shop
  • He’s spearheading a plan to take Pearl out of her custody—not very chill
  • I understand now the appeal of going to open houses *just to peek* even if you’re not in the market for buying, so maybe that

The Gov’s mission to take Pearl from her mother is largely supported by Puritan legislators whom I have a hard time trusting because of this:

The period was hardly, if at all, earlier than that of our story, when a dispute concerning the right of property in a pig, not only caused a fierce and bitter contest in the legislative body of the colony, but resulted in an important modification of the framework itself of the legislature.

Priorities, guys. Priorities.

As they make their way to the mansion, Pearl really acts like “the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment.” Imagine if that’s how we explained each other’s demeanors. (“You’re so docile, Sabrina; your parents must’ve planned you.”)

Pearl is wearing an elaborately embroidered crimson tunic that matches Hester’s scarlet letter. It’s clear that Hester has put her heart and soul into making this dress, which seems irresponsible given that 1. Pearl is three, 2. the natural state of a three-year-old is to have mysterious stains on a majority of their clothes, and 3. I have watched a child grow out of a Baby GAP skort about two hours after I gifted it. This pains me in the same way that Blue Ivy’s $11k VMA dress pains me: worn to be stained and shredded by midnight, and good luck getting that child on the toilet.

A gaggle of “sombre little urchins” (tweens) stop Hester and Pearl in the street:

‘Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!’

This is the clunkiest dialogue I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. Let me add to that by informing you that spellcheck has been riddling Hawthorne’s quotes with “incorrect comma use” on my computer this entire time.

If there’s one thing Hawthorne wants us to remember about the Puritan era, it’s that all our history educators LIED TO US (I don’t blame them. I blame the system): While the Puritan community lived on bread crumbs and modesty, their leaders appreciated the finer things in life and had no shame about it. For instance, mansions. Governor Bellingham’s has “brilliancy [that] might have befitted Aladdin’s palace, rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler.” Right on cue, Nathaniel 2.0 drops an unnecessary five-page description of its decor: high ceilings, heavy oak chairs, rows of old portraits, suits of armor, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

Hester and Pearl brush past the servant who greets them and make their way to the garden, where Hawthorne refers to a pumpkin as a “great lump of vegetable gold.” The plants in this garden are all from England, so nothing is growing very well in the North American soil. For what it’s worth, I appreciate this vegetable metaphor.

Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister

Lots of things are about to happen in rapid succession, which is overwhelming to me because you are all well aware of how long it takes Hawthorne to make a point. Recall chapter two’s history of scaffolds.

Setting: Garden that is a metaphor for the ideals of Puritan New England. Pearl screaming bloody murder because she doesn’t see any red roses in the garden. This feels loaded but I’m not sure why. Governor Bellingham and Reverend Wilson round the corner, as do Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, arm in arm. The gang’s all here! We learn that Chillingworth has become Dimmesdale’s personal physician and confidante. I feel nauseated about this, though it might be because I just ate an entire loaf of pumpkin bread.

Governor Bellingham doesn’t seem to be expecting Hester and Pearl, which is genuinely perplexing because 1. he wants to FORCIBLY REMOVE THE CHILD FROM HER CUSTODY and isn’t exactly being stealthy about it, and 2. he literally ordered something from her. Bellingham cuts to the chase and asks Reverend Wilson to determine whether or not Hester is fit to parent. Wilson does this by grilling Pearl, who is a toddler, on religious subjects. One of his questions is “Who made you?” What Pearl could have said:

  • “The Heavenly Father”
  • “The Holy Ghost”
  • “A stork”
  • “Not entirely sure”
  • “My mom and an unnamed man with whom she had an extramarital affair”

What Pearl actually says is that her mom plucked her off the rose bush by the prison door. When you get past the vague sense that this might be an omen, it’s obscenely cute. Reverend Wilson is visibly annoyed by her answer and that makes me want to fling M&Ms at his head.

Meanwhile, Chillingworth resembles Harvey Dent post-incident:

Hester Prynne looked at him, and even then, with her fate hanging in the balance, was startled to perceive what a change had come over his features,—how much uglier they were,—how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen,—since the days when she had familiarly known him.

Hester makes a good argument for being allowed to keep Pearl, but the Governor doesn’t buy it. Dimmesdale then spends the next twenty minutes explaining why Hester is correct from several different standpoints. Before Wilson and Bellingham have a chance to think about how weird that was, Pearl skips over to hold Dimmesdale’s hand and he leans down to kiss her forehead. No one can really think of how to respond to Dimmesdale’s arguments, so they kind of just stand there. Pearl and Hester leave.

Chillingworth: *Nicholas Cage smile*
Dimmesdale: Haha
Chillingworth: The traits Pearl gets from her mother are obvious, but don’t you gentlemen think it’d be worthwhile to do a little scientific research and figure out who the father is once and for all?
Reverend Wilson: This “science” business is hocus pocus. Best to just wait it out.

As Hester and Pearl exit the mansion, the Governor’s sister (who would be executed for witchcraft a few years later) extends an invitation to a Satan-themed soiree in the woods that night. Hester politely declines but admits if the dingbats upstairs had taken Pearl, she’d have RSVPed in a second flat. She replies, “No sweat, hopefully see you there some other day!”

Thoughts/conclusions:

  • We’re finally getting somewhere
  • Can someone add “Nicholas Cage Smiles” to the Themes, Motifs, and Symbols section of the SparkNote?
  • How does Pearl’s dress make you feel?

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