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How does Hester act when she returns to prison in The Scarlet Letter?

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user9506165 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 14, 2013 at 8:15 PM via web

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How does Hester act when she returns to prison in The Scarlet Letter?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:26 AM (Answer #1)

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After her ignoble exposure upon the scaffold, Hester Prynne is returned to the weather-beaten and rusty prison, that bastlon of Puritan punitive measure.  Immediately, she becomes as still as a corpse, although her babe continues to whimper. There also is in the prison the stranger whom she has spotted in the crowd, the man who has been with the Indians, Roger Chillingworth. This man is her husband. And, when he offers to treat the restless baby, Hester mistrusts him as she is in "no reasonable state of mind." 

Chillingworth then examines Hester herself; as he is calm and intense, Hester reacts to his gaze by shuddering and shrinking back from him, worried what his intentions are. When he hands her a cup from which she is to drink, Hester hesitates. 

"...if death be in this cup, I bid thee think again, ere thou beholdest me quaff it.  See! it is even now at my lips."

Chillingworth assures her that he will derive more satisfaction in knowing that she wears the scarlet letter. He also informs her that he might have "beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path," meaning that because he is older than Hester and a "man already in decay," she would look for someone who could share her passion. To this accusation, Hester replies that she was honest with him, having no love for him. Further, Chillingworth asks Hester with whom she has sinned, but she refuses to reveal the man's name. Undeterred by her refusal, Chillingworth declares, "Not the less he shall be mine!" A bewildered Hester wonders why he has helped her, but threatens the man with whom she has sinned; in addition, he threatens Hester if she should reveal his own identity. These words frighten Hester Prynne.

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