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Blogging The Scarlet Letter: Part 9 (Chapters 18-20)

Welcome back to Blogging The Scarlet Letter. Last time, Hester and Dimmesdale decided to flee Massachusetts. Will Pearl be cool with it?

Chapter 18: A Flood of Sunshine

After a about hundred and seventy pages, Hawthorne has decided to reveal the saucier parts of Hester and Dimmesdale’s relationship. Why does this take so long? Because there are more important things to life than clandestine romances. Things that deserve our undivided attention. Things like scaffolds.

Currently, Hester and Dimmesdale are still in the woods discussing their potential move to rural France. Dimmesdale seems pretty set on skipping town at this point, but clearly he’s panicking on the inside. Here’s the gist of his thought process:

Pros of leaving: No Chillingworth, current mood: “trammelled” by the regulations and prejudices of the Puritan social system, Hester sustains him, will feel less like a hollowed-out potato, already irrevocably doomed, croissants >.

Cons of leaving: 100% chance the entire congregation will become a flock of delinquents hurtling through time and space into Satan’s open arms, WWJD? Not this.

I embellished (croissants), but you get the point. He’s torn. By contrast, Hester, who has been living this whole time in “a moral wilderness; vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest,” gives little to no Fs:

So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the withered leaves.

First of all, this answers all my questions about the technicalities of wearing the letter every day for seven years. It’s basically a glorified employee badge. Second, it’s worth noting that Hester tries to lob the A into The Brook and misses. It lands on the bank, “glittering like a lost jewel.” Reference point:

via GIPHY

Hester releases her hair from her cap and blushes, a line that I’m guessing is meant for nineteenth-century readers who thought this book would be more of a 50 Shades of Grey situation. As soon as she does this,

Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevocable past.*

Me:

via GIPHY

Let’s just pretend that sentence never happened. “The stigma gone,” Hester and Dimmesdale are flooded in sunshine. Didn’t see that one coming. Hester says she’s excited for Dimmesdale and Pearl to become acquainted, but this is probably the vitamin D talking. Unfortunately for all parties, Dimmesdale is not great with kids, and has in fact been terrified of Pearl this entire time. Hester tries to brush off the statement that her daughter gives her biological father the creeps and calls out for Pearl to join them.

Hawthorne ends the chapter with two full pages detailing the plants and animals Pearl interacts with while her parents are chatting, because why the hell not. A highlight:

A squirrel from the lofty depths of his domestic tree, chattered either in anger or merriment,—for a squirrel is such a choleric and humorous little personage, that it is hard to distinguish between his moods,—so he chattered at the child, and flung down a nut upon her head.

Pearl adorns herself in flowers and plants, thus becoming the forest. Hawthorne double and triple checks that we realize this transformation is both literal and metaphorical.

Chapter 19: The Child at the Brook Side

As Pearl stands there staring at them from the other side of the brook, Hester and Dimmesdale are both like, oh my god, we made that thing. Yes, that’s genetics for you. Dimmesdale reiterates that children are consistently repulsed by him and infants usually “weep bitterly” in his arms. I want to underscore that babies don’t just cry when he holds them. They do it “bitterly.”

Right after Dimmesdale says he’s confused as to why children don’t like him, he answers his own question by telling Hester that the brook seems like a boundary between this world and another world in which Pearl is a demon.

Pearl, who may or may not have heard that comment, points her finger at Hester’s bosom (now letterless), and proceeds to throw a DEFCON 1 tantrum, “gesticulating violently and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions.”

Dimmesdale says, OUT LOUD, that if Hester really loves him she’ll make Pearl stop screaming bloody murder. That’s not how it works, buddy. Hester sighs loudly, maybe because Dimmesdale is clueless about human mechanics, but definitely because since she’s known what has to happen this whole time. She retrieves and re-fastens the scarlet letter and stuffs her hair back into her cap. Leaving nothing up to the reader’s interpretation as usual, Hawthorne tells us that this act seals her fate.

Once Hester is back to being outfitted in her shame suit, and I assume the sunshine disappears, she demands that Pearl ask for Reverend Dimmesdale’s blessing. Pearl is not having any of this. In all fairness, no one’s told her that Dimmesdale is her dad yet.

In an attempt to do somethinganything, Dimmesdale leans down to kiss her. Pearl sprints down to the brook to scrub her forehead vigorously.

Chapter 20: The Minister In a Maze

Dimmesdale is ECSTATIC that their ship will set sail for Europe four days from now, because he’ll still get to deliver the sermon for the new governor’s inauguration in three days.

via GIPHY

His walk out of the forest is basically a Rocky montage until he realizes that he’s overcome with the urges to do something “wild.” Wild things he ALMOST does but manages to stop himself from: uttering “certain blasphemous suggestions” about the communion supper to the deacon, summarizing a scripture passage for an old woman instead of saying it word-for-word, and teaching a bunch of kids some curse words. He even chats up Mistress Hibbins and gets a sense they that have shared interests.

When he gets home, Chillingworth offers his patient his routine meds, but Dimmesdale says nah, he’s good today, and in fact he thinks he’s totally cured. From this sentence, Chillingworth concludes that they are now “bitterest enem[ies].”

Dimmesdale dismisses him, hangry-eats a large meal, probably potatoes, and then sits down to write his election day sermon. Let us end with this glorious bouquet of diction and syntax:

Thus the night fled away, as if it were a winged steed, and he careering on it; morning came, and peeped, blushing, through the curtains; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into the study and laid it right across the minister’s bedazzled eyes.

Thoughts/conclusions:

  • *Can we just imagine what this sentence would sound like if Hawthorne were talking about Dimmesdale? “His sex, his youth, and the whole richness of his beauty, came back from what women call the irrevocable past.
  • Are you as disapointed as I am about Dimmesdale’s lack of dad skills?
  • Will they actually get on that boat to Europe?
  • +10 for bedazzled eyes

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