Discuss Mistress Hibbins, Governor Bellingham, and Mr. Wilson of "The Scarlet Letter."
Minor in terms of the amount of space devoted to them, but each plays a crucial role. Discuss the role of each of these characters relative to the overall plot.
Based upon historical figures, Governor Bellingham is representative of the real Richard Bellingham who came to America in 1634 and was governor of the English colony in 1641, 1654, and 1655; while Mistress Higgins, who represents Anne Hibbins, was executed as a witch in 1656; John Wilson was a minister in 1630, who was a strong figure of Puritan authority and intolerance. These characters who appear throughout Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" lend more verisimilitude to the narrative in their Puritan pervasiveness. In addition, as a character Bellingham demonstrates in Chapter II that "religion and law were almost identical" as he insists that Pearl be taken from Hester since she has committed adultery. Yet, there is a duality to his character as he also exhibits hypocrisy, for his mansion and gardens are not of the simplicity and greyness demanded by Puritanism. His sister, Mistress Hibbins, is herself a witch. She too represents a real person: Anne Hibbins, who was burned as a witch in 1656. Somewhat comical in nature in Hawthorne's novel as she cackles and watches from windows, she tempts Hester and Dimmesdale to sign the Black Man's book in the forest and attend the black mass, Hibbins's real-life persona reminds the reader of the "grim power of Puritan regulation" and its accompanying paranoia. In Chapter XXII, for instance, Mistress Hibbins reappears,
dressed in great magnificence, with a triple ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of rich velvet, and a gold-headed cane.
The crowd gives way to her, seeming to fear the "touch of her garment" as she stands in juxtaposition to the "holy man," the Reverend Dimmesdale. This scene also serves to highlight the hypocrisy of Dimmesdale and Hibbins both.
Like Mistress Hibbins, the Rev. Mr. Wilson appears in various scenes as a reminder of the grim sternness of Puritanism. In Chapter III he coldly demands that Hester reveal her partner in sin as she stands in ignominy on the scaffold. Then, he prods Dimmesdale into interrogating her. When Hester brings Pearl to the governor's mansion, Mr. Wilson is present and delights in the sight of Pearl, comparing her "scarlet plumage" to the painted birds of windows in cathedrals in "merry old England." However, he stops himself in hypocrisy, remembering his office: "But that was in the old land." Seriously, he begins to interrogate Pearl on her catechism. When he asks her, "Canst thou tell me, my child, who made thee?" Pearl responds that she was not made at all, but was plucked from the wild rose bush that grows beside the prison door. Appalled at this answer, Mr. Wilson does, nevertheless, defend the sanctity of motherhood and the hand of God that gives Hester the child as a reminder of her sin. Later, in Chapter XII, he walks past the Reverend Dimmesdale who holds his vigil on the scaffold. Dimmesdale feels tremendous anxiety as the "venerable minister" passes him.
Again, in Chapter XXIII Mr. Wilson and Governor Bellingham are present as Dimmesdale passes, "tottering on his path." When Mr. Wilson offers him an arm, "the minister tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the old man's arm," a gesture that is, indeed, symbolic of his rejection of the hypocrisy of Puritanism. Even the governor moves forward to assist Dimmesdale, but is repelled by the minister's look. Once on the scaffold, Dimmesdale escapes Chillingworth, who cries out. Mr. Wilson declares, "Thou,too, hast sinned," serving again as a reminder of Puritan judgment as does Governor Bellingham Puritan law, and Mistress Hibbins, Puritan hypocrisy.