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In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, during Dimmesdale's vigil, there were other people...

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rosey-girl | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted September 29, 2012 at 6:10 PM via web

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In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, during Dimmesdale's vigil, there were other people walking by the scaffold. Who were they, where had they been and why?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 29, 2012 at 9:49 PM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter Twelve of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, while the Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale is on the scaffold late one night, several people pass by. One is the Rev. Mr. Wilson, who Dimmesdale calls out to. Obviously Wilson does not hear him, and as they do not speak, we cannot be certain where Wilson has been. We can assume that he has been where others passing by have also been.

Dimmesdale is surprised to see Hester and Pearl walking by as well.

“Pearl! Little Pearl!” cried he, after a moment's pause; then, suppressing his voice,—”Hester! Hester Prynne! Are you there?”

Hester answers and he stops them, wondering why they are out so late:

“Whence come you, Hester?” asked the minister. “What sent you hither?”

Hester answers Dimmesdale; she and others have been out for the same serious purpose:

I have been watching at a death-bed...at Governor Winthrop's death-bed...

Hester infers that the governor has died for she also notes that she is on her way home now, with the dead man's measurements, to sew his shroud or "robe." Dimmesdale asks them to join him on the scaffold.

The three of them—Dimmesdale, Hester and little Pearl—are suddenly startled to see a meteor (shooting star) crossing the night sky, casting a reddish glow on all beneath it. Dimmesdale (who is the father of Hester's child) believes he sees in the fiery trail of light, the shape of an "A," reminding him of his guilt—for Hester never revealed his identity, and he has never admitted to his involvement with her.

Another person is out that evening; it is Pearl who sees him first:

[Pearl] withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmesdale's, and pointed across the street. 

Dimmesdale is still entranced by the passing meteor, and the significance of what he believes he sees; but at the same time, he is somehow aware not just that someone else is there in the shadows, but exactly who is there:

All the time that he gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware that little Pearl was pointing her finger towards old Roger Chillingworth...

Chillingworth is Hester's long-lost husband, though he has made her swear not to tell anyone. He has also been caring for Dimmesdale who is in poor health, but doing so even while knowing that Dimmesdale was his wife's lover. And without knowing who Chillingworth really is, Dimmesdale still abhors the man.

Chillingworth, a physician, has also been to the governor's home, waiting at his side as the man died.

It seems that those who are out so late have been at the governor's home, as he was dying.

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