In chapter 19, what is the effect on Hester when she replaces the letter on her bosom?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 19 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is titled "The Child at the Brookside". In this chapter we find Hester and Dimmesdale together and alone in the forest with Pearl, who is by the brook contemplating her reflection on the water.

As Dimmesdale and Hester speak, they plan about their escape and Hester is particularly happy that she does not have to wear the letter once she is outside the boundaries of the settlement.

I must bear its torture yet a little longer,—only a few days longer,—until we shall have left this region, and look back hither as to a land which we have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide it! The mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and swallow it up for ever!”

Little does she know that her letter has accidentally fallen already from her bosomand is laying near the brookside. What is most unexpected is that Pearl would throwwhat hints to be a supernaturally-motivated fit so out of control that it would make Hester and Dimmesdale quite shocked.

But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats, any more than mollified by her entreaties, now suddenly burst into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions She accompanied this wild outbreak with piercing shrieks, which the woods reverberated on all sides; so that, alone as she was in her childish and unreasonable wrath, it seemed as if a hidden multitude were lending her their sympathy and encouragemen

This fit that Pearl throws is because she cannot stand the sight of her mother NOT wearing the scarlet letter, and because she is adamant that her mom should wear it back.

Hester understand that Pearl is a child and that children cannot bear seeing their parents go through too many changes. Given that Pearl has always seen her mother wearing the letter, she demands that her mother puts it back. This, Hester does and immediately her personality changes.

With these words, she advanced to the margin of the brook, took up the scarlet letter, and fastened it again into her bosom. Hopefully, but a moment ago, as Hester had spoken of drowning it in the deep sea, there was a sense of inevitable doom upon her, as she thus received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate. She had flung it into infinite space!—she had drawn an hour's free breath!—and here again was the scarlet misery, glittering on the old spot!

When she puts the letter on, she immediately reverts back a stage of androgynous anonymity to which the letter first sets Hester at the beginning of the story, making her lose the female charms that she was displaying earlier.

Hester next gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair, and confined them beneath her cap. As if there were a withering spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine; and a grey shadow seemed to fall across her.

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The Scarlet Letter

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