In The Scarlet Letter, what does Mistress Hibbins say to Hester in Chapter 22?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapter 22 is when the inaugural procession arrives in the market place and Arthur Dimmesdale delivers his Election Sermon. Whilst Hester Prynne watches the procession, Mistress Hibbins, who is described in very sinister terms, comments to her about the appearance of Arthur Dimmesdale. Note the reputation that Mistress Hibbins has, which perhaps helps explain her words to Hester about Dimmesdale:

As this ancient lady had the renown (which subsequently cost her no less a price than her life) of being a principal actor in all the works of necromancy that were continually going forward, the crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the touch of her garment, as if it carried the plague among its gorgeous folds.

Her association with necromancy and witchcraft thus explains her "confidential" words to Hester, when she says that Arthur Dimmesdale appears as a saint on earth, but then talks about him going to the "forest," clearly an allegation that he has been involved in witchcraft. She comments that many parishioners have been to the forest with her:

Many a church member saw I, walking behind the music, that has danced in the same measure with me, when Somebody was fiddler, and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard changing hands with us!

She tries to gain the confidence of Hester, alleging that Hester too has been to the forest, but Hester rebuffs her attempts at intimacy.

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