Who is associated with the weeds and poisonous plants in The Scarlet Letter?The, scarlet, letter, weeds, plants, poisonous, poison, associated

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Introduced early in The Scarlet Letter as one knowledgeable of the medicinal benefits of herbs, Hester's husband comes to the prison and treats the baby that has become so upset by the happenings of the day.  From the Indians he has learned the medicinal power of such natural remedies.  One day after Chillingworth moves in with the minister in order to attend him as his physician, the Reverend Dimmesdale looks toward the graveyard.  Then, noticing that the physician examines "a bundle of unsightly plants," he curiously asks Chillingworth from where he has found a herb with "such a dark, flabby leaf."  Chillingworth replies that he discoveredit upon the grave of a dead man who has no tombstone; he tells the minister, ironically, that the herbs grew out of the man's heart and "typify...some hideous secret that was buried with him."  Of course, the dramatic irony here is that Chillingworth himself has an ugliness that grows out of his own heart.  For, in a later chapter after he has peered into the soul of the minister and pulled back the garment from his chest, in much the same manner that "Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven," Chillingworth confesses to having his own moral aspect revealed to himself, much like that black plant about which he and Dimmesdale have spoken.  He tells Hester in Chapter XIV,

"...My old faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and explains all that we do, and all we suffer. By thy first step awry, thou didst plant the germ of evil; but since that moment, it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion; neither am I fiend-like, who have snatched a fiend's office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man.” 

Chillingworth then dismisses Hester and returns to his gathering of herbs.  For, now he is obsessed with trying to extract the secret of Dimmesdale's heart as he finds herbs with which to treat the ailing minister.

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