The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapters 7–8

Summary Chapters 7–8

Summary—Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall

Hester pays a visit to Governor Bellingham’s mansion. She has two intentions: to deliver a pair of ornate gloves she has made for the governor, and to find out if there is any truth to the rumors that Pearl, now three, may be taken from her. Some of the townspeople, apparently including the governor, have come to suspect Pearl of being a sort of demon-child. The townspeople reason that if Pearl is a demon-child, she should be taken from Hester for Hester’s sake. And, they reason, if Pearl is indeed a human child, she should be taken away from her mother for her own sake and given to a “better” parent than Hester Prynne. On their way to see the governor, Hester and Pearl are attacked by a group of children, who try to fling mud at them. Pearl becomes angry and frightens the children off.

The governor’s mansion is stuffy and severe. It is built in the style of the English aristocracy, complete with family portraits and a suit of armor, which the governor has worn in battles with the Native Americans. Pearl is fascinated by the armor. When she points out her mother’s reflection in it, Hester is horrified to see that the scarlet letter dominates the reflection. Pearl begins to scream for a rose from the bush outside the window, but she is quieted by the entrance of a group of men.

Read a translation of Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall →

Summary—Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister

Bellingham, Wilson, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale enter the room. They notice Pearl and begin to tease her by calling her a bird and a demon-child. When the governor points out that Hester is also present, they ask her why she should be allowed to keep the child. She tells the men that she will be able to teach Pearl an important lesson—the lesson that she has learned from her shame. They are doubtful, and Wilson tries to test the three-year-old’s knowledge of religious subjects. Wilson resents Pearl’s seeming dislike of him, and Pearl’s refusal to answer even the simplest of questions does not bode well.

With nowhere else to turn, Hester begs Dimmesdale to speak for her and her child. He replies by reminding the men that God sent Pearl and that the child was seemingly meant to be both a blessing and a curse. Swayed by his eloquence, Bellingham and Wilson agree not to separate mother and child. Strangely, Pearl has taken well to Dimmesdale. She goes to him and presses his hand to her cheek. Vexed because Hester seems to have triumphed, Chillingworth presses the men to reopen their investigation into the identity of Hester’s lover, but they refuse, telling him that God will reveal the information when He deems it appropriate. As Hester leaves the governor’s mansion, Mistress Hibbins, the governor’s sister, pokes her head out of the window to invite Hester to a witches’ gathering. Hester tells her that if she had not been able to keep Pearl, she would have gone willingly. The narrator notes that it seems Pearl has saved her mother from Satan’s temptations.

Read a translation of Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister →

Analysis—Chapters 7–8

These chapters link Pearl even more explicitly to the scarlet letter. Hester dresses her daughter in “a crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread.” Pearl and the embroidered letter are both beautiful in a rich, sensuous way that stands in contrast to the stiffness of Puritan society. Indeed, the narrator explicitly tells the reader that Pearl is “the scarlet letter endowed with life.” The narrator tells us that Hester has worked to create an “analogy between the object of [Hester’s] affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture.” This reinforces the contradictory nature of both the letter and Pearl, for just as Hester both loves and feels burdened by Pearl, her thoughts regarding the scarlet letter seem also to contain a touch of fondness. Certainly her attitude toward it is not one of uniform regret, and she may even harbor pleasant associations with the deeds that the letter symbolizes. The sin itself was both a guilty act and an act of affection, a problematic combination of love and “evil.”

The letter and the child also hold a dual meaning for the town fathers. They understand that both child and badge function as reminders of sin and as protections against further sin. Dimmesdale momentarily acknowledges this in his speech, but the purpose of his words is not to ponder ambiguities but rather to point to these ambiguities as proof of the futility of all interpretation. Pearl, he says, came from God, and therefore must be intended as Hester’s companion. According to Dimmesdale, any attempt to interpret her presence otherwise would be in vain because no one has knowledge of God’s intentions.