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In The Scarlet Letter, why doesn't the governor intercede when his sister is condemned...

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted December 27, 2008 at 5:45 AM via web

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In The Scarlet Letter, why doesn't the governor intercede when his sister is condemned as a witch? 

Governor Bellingham was brother to Mistress Hibbins. Why does he let her hang?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 27, 2008 at 9:15 AM (Answer #1)

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Although Gov. Richard Bellingham and Ann Hibbins were real historical characters, Nathaniel Hawthorne does not include every detail of their relationship in his novel. Ann Hibbins was the sister of Gov. Bellingham and married to William Hibbins. All of them came to Boston about 1634. Both men became prosperous and well-known from their arrival. However, Ann was a very strong minded individual and became involved in a quarrel with a fellow church member. The quarrel escalated until finally Ann was excommunicated from the Puritan church. However, he husband was still alive so she was protected even though she was known as a difficult woman. Unfortunately, her husband, William suffered a series of financial misfortunes and then died in 1654. This left Ann a poor widow, who did not fit the stereotype of pious widow. Instead, she was argumentative, and troublesome to her neighbors. With her husband's death, she was left no real legal protection. Her prominent brother ,Richard Bellingham, who is curiously left out of the accounts of the time, was either unwilling or unable to help her. Her real crime seemed to be that she was difficult to get along with and therefore, disliked. Thus, she was executed as a witch in 1656. A contemporary minster, John Horton commented "Mistress Hibbins was hanged for a witch only for having more wit than her neighbors."

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mystagain | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 28, 2008 at 7:15 AM (Answer #2)

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Sorry - Something happened when I was answering before.

You also have to understand the way people thought back then; Governor Bellingham might've intervened if it were modern times, but back then two things ruled the people, king and church (Remember this happened before the American Revolution, and colony rule was laid out by charter under the laws of the king and country that issued them.  The church had heavy influence over every single Christian king in Europe at the time and this influence would've transferred over to colony rule.)  He might've been afraid that he'd be accused of being bespelled by her or in league with her.  He would've been afraid for his life and that of his family, since family was often viewed with the same suspicion as the accused.  Being governor, it would've been the perfect time for his political enemies to moved against him.  He might've been afraid that the king would take his position away and give it to one of his rivals.  He would've tried to distance himself from her to minimize the damaged her scandal would've brought to him.  There is also the slim possibility that he actually believed that she was a witch and deserved what she was getting, depending on how religious he was (many powerful political men back then were also powerful members of the local churches at the time.).

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mystagain | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 28, 2008 at 6:20 AM (Answer #3)

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You also have to understand the way people thought back then; Governor Bellingham might've intervened if it were modern times, but back then two things ruled the people, king and church (Remember this happened before the American Revolution, and colony rule was laid out by charter under the laws of the king and country that issued them.

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