What is the significance of Reverend Wilson, Mistress Hibbins, and Governor Bellingham to Hester and/or Pearl in The Scarlet Letter?By 'signifficance' I mean, the impact they had on Hester and...

What is the significance of Reverend Wilson, Mistress Hibbins, and Governor Bellingham to Hester and/or Pearl in The Scarlet Letter?

By 'signifficance' I mean, the impact they had on Hester and Pearl. Details would be appreciated.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter VIII of The Scarlet Letter, Hester is summoned before the secular and spiritual leaders of the community.  At the Governor's Hall, she is to be questioned about her fitness to raise her daughter, Pearl.  In this dramatic chapter, Hawthorne brings together the four main characters of the novel--Hester, Pearl, Reverend Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth--and other characters, who represent the State, the Church, and the world of darkness.  Here, too, in this chapter, the author illuminates a theme that he develops throughout the narrative:  It is better to sin honestly than to hide sin in order to appear virtuous.

When Hester and Pearl arrive at the Governor's Hall, both Governor Bellingham and "good old Mr. Wilson," the secular and spiritual leaders of the Puritan comunity, delight in Pearl's dazzling appearance that is in sharp contrast to the "sad-coloured garments" of those Puritans gathered outside the prison door in Chapter I.  The governor, whose home is resplendent with stained glass windows, a suit of armor, and other luxurious touches, declares that the girl reminds him of his courtly days of masquerades and such in England under King James, while the Reverend Mr. Wilson declares her a "little bird of scarlet plummage." 

With sanctimonious hypocrisy, however, the Mr. Wilson poses questions to ascertain Pearl's spiritual education.  When Pearl impetuously refuses to answer the catechism questions correctly, the authorities argue that she should not be raised by Hester.  Demurring, Hester argues,

"this badge hath taught me...lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and better, albeit they can profit nothing myself.....She is my happiness!--she is my torture, none the less!  Pearl keeps me here in life!  Pearl punishes me, too!...she is the scarlet letter...and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin?  Ye shall not take her!  I will die first!"

Perceiving that the admission of her sin by keeping the visible form of it, Pearl, will effect her spiritual healing and retribution, Hester later turns away from the devilish temptation offered her by Mistress Higgins, who invites her to a black mass, because of her duty to Pearl.  And prior to this incident, Hester becomes aware of the destructiveness of spiritual hypocrisy as she appeals to the trembling Reverend Dimmesdale to speak on her behalf.  As he comes forward to speak, Hester remarks how pale he is, holding his hand over his heart, with eyes "troubled and melancholy [in] depth."  Already the signs of his secret sin become apparent to Hester while Hester's admission of sin have "saved her from Satan's snare."  Hawthorne's theme, stated in the conclusion: 

Be true! Be true! Be true!  Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!

is, indeed, brought to light in Chapter VIII in which major characters convene.


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