“Mother,” said [Pearl], “was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?”
This conversation, which is described in Chapter 22, takes place a few days after Hester and Pearl’s encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest. It emphasizes the importance of physical settings in the novel and evokes the motif of civilization versus the wilderness. Dimmesdale has just walked by Hester and Pearl as part of the Election Day pageantry, and Pearl notices his changed appearance. Hester’s realization that different rules apply in the marketplace than in the forest has more significant consequences than she realizes, making this yet another ironic moment in the text. Hester primarily wishes Pearl to maintain a sense of decorum and not reveal her mother’s secret and the family’s plans to flee. On another level, though, Hester’s statement suggests that plans made in the forest will not withstand the public scrutiny of the marketplace. What is possible in the woods—a place of fantasy, possibility, and freedom—is not an option in the heart of the Puritan town, where order, prescription, and harsh punishment reign.