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Chapter 12 Notes from The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 12

Dimmesdale makes his way to the town scaffold where Hester and Pearl had stood many years previous as a part of Hester's sentence. He climbs the stairs so he is standing where they stood. Because it is a very dark night, and no one is awake, Arthur Dimmesdale feels no fear of being discovered. However, there was one eye that was able to see him - the all-knowing one that was calling to him from the depths.

Because he is in such a state of guilt and repentance, Dimmesdale lets out a loud shriek, which echoes through the quiet, sleeping town. He is suddenly convinced that everyone will awake when they hear the sound. There is no reaction, except for two lights, one in Governor Bellingham's window, and one coming from his sister Mistress Hibbins' window. After these lights are extinguished, Dimmesdale sees a man, who turns out to be the Reverend Wilson, with a lantern approaching the scaffolds. Although the lantern casts a gleam, it does not reach the scaffold, and Dimmesdale remains undetected. Reverend Wilson had come from the bedside of Governor Winthrop, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who had just passed away. As Reverend Wilson passes, Dimmesdale imagines that he speaks to him, as if the two men were passing in the street during the day and engaged in normal pleasantries.

Dimmesdale imagines a very real conversation with Reverend Wilson, but then watches Wilson continue past the scaffolds, not glancing up from his path. Dimmesdale remains standing on the scaffold, suddenly realizing that, because of the chilly night air, he may not be able to walk down the steps of the scaffold until morning, when he is discovered. At this thought, Dimmesdale begins to laugh, and promptly hears a child's laugh in return. He recognizes Pearl's voice, and calls after her and her mother. Hester has also been at Governor Winthrop's deathbed, taking measurements for his burial gown, and she had her daughter with her. Mr. Dimmesdale calls to the two women, saying "Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl. Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together!" Chapter 12, pg. 140.

Dimmesdale takes Pearl's hand, which sends a new rush of energy through the minister's body. As they stand on the scaffold, Pearl asks Dimmesdale if he will stand with the two of them like this tomorrow at noon. He says no, but that one day he will indeed stand there with the two of them. He then goes on to say that Judgment Day will be when they stand together, but never in this world will they do so. Pearl responds with a laugh. At that moment, a meteor streaks across the sky, throwing a red streak across the sky that lights up the whole town square. Pearl, with her characteristic naughty, witchcraft-like expression, withdraws her hand from Arthur Dimmesdale's and points across the street. The meteor's trail, to which Dimmesdale directs his gaze, has taken the shape of a big, red 'A' streaking across the sky.

Topic Tracking: Red 5
Topic Tracking: Wild 6

However, Pearl was not pointing at the meteor's streak but at Roger Chillingworth, who was also returning from Governor Winthrop's deathbed, and who is now gazing, with a terrible and malevolent expression, at the three people standing on the scaffold. Dimmesdale reacts with terror at the sight of Chillingworth, and asks Hester if she knows the man. Hester, true to her oath to Chillingworth, does not reveal her relationship to Chillingworth. Pearl whispers to Dimmesdale that she knows who he is, but then simply speaks in gibberish. She does this, she says, because Dimmesdale refused earlier to stand with she and Hester on the scaffold during the day. Chillingworth convinces Dimmesdale to come home with him, so that he is able to preach the next day at Sunday morning services.

The sermon the next morning is the best the Reverend Dimmesdale has ever given, and many souls are brought to the truth because of it. As Reverend Dimmesdale leaves his pulpit, the sexton meets him, holding out one of Dimmesdale's black gloves, which was found on the scaffold that morning. "Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to cover it!" Chapter 12, pg. 145. The sexton then mentions the meteor shower in the shape of an 'A' that was seen the night before, and says "...which we interpret to stand for Angel. For as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof." Dimmesdale indicates that he has not heard about the occurrence. Chapter 12, pg. 145.

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