Discuss the significance of the three-pillory scenes in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The platform of the pillory, or the scaffold, is an actual platform that a guilty person must stand on for a length of time in order to be put on display for their sins and suffer public humiliation.

1st scene:

who: Hester and (baby) Pearl. 
when: Noon
: Hester's punishment as dictated by the laws of the colony for comitting adultery
significant spectators: the entire colony, the magistrates and ministers, Chillingworth (who has just arrived)
outcome: Hester will not reveal who the father of the baby is, even when persuaded by Dimmesdale himself (sit. irony); Hester shows no signs of remorse nor fear - looks very proud.

2nd scene:

who: Dimmesdale then Hester and Pearl with him
when: middle of the night about 7 years later
reasons: Dimmesdale seeks resolution and forgiveness for hiding his secret sin; in this symbolic act of repentance (in front of no one) he believes this will provide his soul with relief
significant spectators: no one, but Chillingworth shows up at the very end and it is a mystery how long he's been there and how much he has seen
outcome: Pearl and Hester join Dimmesdale and for a moment he has an unusual feeling of strength; Pearl asks him, "Will you stand with us, we three together, tommorrow noon-tide?"  She continues to condemn him for keeping the secret; a shooting star then bursts through the sky leaving what looks like a large letter "A" behind it; the next morning the townspeople who saw it say it was an A for "angel" as the great Gov. Winthrop died the night before; also, Dimmesdale forgets his glove on the steps, and when it is found the next morning the townspeople say that Satan himself must have taken it and placed it there.

3rd scene:

who: Dimmesdale, Pearl, Hester
when: middle of the day, just after the annual election day speech made by Dimmesdale
reason: Hester and Dimmesdale plan to board a boat and leave for England; this is Dimmesdale's final action to absolve himself of his sin; he climbs the steps first then encourages Hester and Pearl to join him
significant spectators: the entire colony plus a bunch of visitors
outcome: Dimmesdale rips his shirt off and although it is not said exactly what is there, it is assumed he has his own scarlet letter on his chest; the entire colony finally knows the truth of who the father is; Chillingworth approaches the steps and tries to get Dimmesdale to come down, then says, basically, this is the one and only place you could have escaped me - confirming that the only way for Dimmesdale to truly repent was to come clean before the people; oh yes, and Dimmesdale dies.

dkahn | Student

'pillory' is it not?

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The Scarlet Letter

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