Chapter 13 Notes from The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 13

Again we take a look at Hester, examining who she has become over the past seven years. After the incident on the town scaffolds at night, Hester Prynne realizes how badly Mr. Dimmesdale has deteriorated, both physically and emotionally, since Pearl was born. She decides to seek Mr. Dimmesdale out in private and try to offer her help. She recognizes her bond with him because of the crime they committed together, and therefore her responsibility to him. In addition, Hester continually helps those who less fortunate than she, and Arthur Dimmesdale is no exception.

In addition, Hester finds that the perception of her in the community has begun to change: "[M]any people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." Chapter 13, pg. 148. However, Hester cannot find it in herself to accept any thanks, instead pointing silently to the scarlet letter when she is stopped in the street.

However, it does not appear that the community continues to fully recognize the meaning of the scarlet letter. The first thing townspeople tell strangers about the letter when they inquire is that Hester is kind and giving. Only afterward do they explain its original significance. In addition, a mythology has risen out of the letter, and people say that it has protected Hester from mortal wounds from an Indian arrow, and that it will keep her safe no matter with whom she associates. Despite this favorable change in how Hester is perceived among the townspeople, Hester herself has undergone a deeper, more profound change. "All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline, which might have been repulsive, had she possessed friends or companions to be repelled by it." Chapter 13, pp. 149-50.

Topic Tracking: Burning 5

She even looks harsh, with her plain dresses and hair tucked completely under a cap, never to be seen by anyone. "[T]here seemed to be no longer anything in Hester's face for Love to dwell upon" Chapter 13, pg. 150. It is debatable whether or not she can regain those attributes. Because Hester is in this position, her life enters a period of deep and continuous thought. It is in this realm that Hester commits the deepest crimes against the Puritan fathers, who are not accepting, as are the Europeans, of freedom of thought. Hester takes great theoretical risks and dramatic steps, like those of the European rulers who have overthrown ancient prejudicial systems.

She begins to imagine the possibility of upsetting the power of men, and therefore giving women a better place in the world. In imagining change, she sees that the power of men has become so ingrained it almost appears hereditary, and she understands how difficult it will be to create change. Of course, "It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society." Chapter 13, pg. 151. Hester lives her life in this careful manner because of Pearl, for whom she must care, and about whom she must think all the time. Pearl is so difficult, as if she is affected by her parents unlawful union, that she serves as both a warning and a topic of contemplation for Hester. Hester sees the great injustice done to women throughout history, and wonders whether Pearl should not be sent to Heaven immediately, because the world was too horrible, and because then Hester could leave the world as well.

Hester begins, after her encounter with Dimmesdale, to contemplate the issue of Arthur Dimmesdale's imminent psychological ruin at the hands of Roger Chillingworth. She had always felt that, by refusing to implicate him in the crime of adultery, she was saving him from the ruin that she faced every day. Unfortunately only now does she realize her mistake - this silent, hidden enemy (Chillingworth) is much worse than any public shame. She recognizes, however, that Chillingworth has stooped even lower than she by trying to get revenge on Dimmesdale - something she has never done. Hester decides that she must speak to Chillingworth, her former husband, and try to convince him to let Dimmesdale be.

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