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The SparkNotes Blog

Homework help made hilarious.

Blogging The Scarlet Letter: Part 8 (Chapters 16-17)

Previously in Blogging The Scarlet Letter~

Chapter 16: A Forest Walk

On a “chill and sombre” day, Hester is lurking the forest with Pearl in the hopes that she will run into Reverend Dimmesdale.

If you’ll remember from last time, Hester is in a real pickle here. After seven years she is good and ready to tell Dimmesdale the truth about Chillingworth, which is that he is her husband and has been plotting the Reverend’s slow descent into the pits of hell for almost a decade. She has no idea how Dimmesdale will react. Scenario one: He forgives her immediately and snaps out of his downward spiral, thus reclaiming his position as the number one studmuffin minister of the Northern Hemisphere. Scenario two: He croaks on the spot. In either case, a sneak attack doesn’t seem like the best strategy here.

There are a handful of reasons this rendez-vous is in the woods, and all of them include extended metaphors. The woods are wild and mysterious, the perfect spot for Mistress Hibbins’ Satan-approved debauchery and Hester + Dimmesdale’s sexcapades. It’s the only place Hester feels she has “the whole wide world to breathe in,” so I’m not going out on on limb to say Pearl was probably conceived in these woods. Now contrast this with the town center: rife in the governor’s rules and biases, controlled by the patriarchy, dismally lacking in checked privileges.

Pearl observes that the sunshine has been avoiding Hester and her scarlet letter, and that it instead chooses to dance around Pearl, an emblem of innocence, with its warmth. I wouldn’t read into it too much.

As they wait around, Pearl asks Hester to tell her a story about the Black Man, a figure who haunts the forest and forces people to write their names in his book with their own blood.  Hawthorne was never one for subtlety. This is a classic 1600s superstition, so Hester doesn’t panic that her daughter has the imagination of a serial killer, but does make it clear that she’s had enough of this baloney. To shut her up, Hester tells her that the Black Man DID, in fact, place the scarlet letter on her bosom. Pearl is satisfied with the answer, for now.

They move past the topic of the devil’s agenda, and sit on

a luxuriant heap of moss, which, at some epoch of the preceding century, had been a gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere.


The trees impending over it had flung down great branches, from time to time, which choked up the current, and compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points; while, in its swifter and livelier passages, there appeared a channel-way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand.

This writing is objectively beautiful, but so unnecessary to the plot that I am FORCED to conclude that Hawthorne hadn’t decided where the storyline would go at this point, so he just wrote a few filler pages of description about the scenery to kill time. Of note is a babbling brook, which I think is supposed to represent Pearl.

^ You and I, trying to process the symbols and metaphors in this book. via GIPHY

Hester and Pearl hear someone approaching. In what seems to be a stab at irony but is so unsurprising that it physically pains me to call it that, Pearl mistakes the approaching Dimmesdale for the Black Man.

Chapter 17: The Pastor and His Parishioner

Dimmesdale hears someone calling his name and thinks it’s a ghost. When he realizes it’s Hester, he makes sure she not a ghost and then pops a squat on a bed of moss.

If you’ve always wanted to hear what awkward small talk sounds like in the lexicon of the seventeenth-century colonies, you’re in for a treat! Hester and Dimmesdale chat about “the gloomy sky, the threatening storm, and, next, the health of each,” and I’m guessing they both sweat a lot. Once that’s out of the way, Hester spills the beans about Chillingworth.

Hester: Please?
Dimmesdale: Okay I forgive you
Hester: Remember that time we did it in the woods
Dimmesdale: Absolutely
Hester: Let’s run away together!
Hester: Please?
Dimmesdale: Okay I’m in

She convinces him to travel back across the sea to a remote village or a huge city, where no one will recognize them—FAR, FAR away from “these iron men and their opinions.”

Join me next time for the ~denouement.~


  • Hester says Pearl has a “metallic lustre,” and that is my winter aesthetic goals.
  • Has Hester been plotting this escape for seven years? Damn girl. I can barely plan for next week.
  • What will Pearl have to say about this? Probably something.

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