What clues to the identity of the stranger does Hawthorne provide in the first three paragraphs of Chapter 3 in "The Scarlet Letter"?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Towards the end of chapter 2, Hester is holding Pearl on the scaffold in front of the community and sees an older man, who resembles a scholar with a slight deformity. She immediately recognizes the man and begins to question reality.

In the first three paragraphs of chapter 3, Hawthorne provides clues to the stranger's identity by describing him as a man wearing a "civilized and savage costume." Hester also notices that one of his shoulders rises higher than the other and there is an appearance of intelligence on the man's face. Hester reacts to seeing the stranger by holding her child tightly until Pearl begins to cry.

The stranger's gaze is described as being "keen and penetrative" with a "writhing horror" twisted across his face, which makes him resemble an evil snake. Hawthorne continues to describe the stranger's darkened face and mentions that it held a powerful emotion. When Hester and the stranger's eyes meet, he slowly puts his finger to his mouth as a gesture for Hester to not reveal his identity.

From the opening paragraphs of chapter 3, the reader understands that this stranger has an intimate knowledge of Hester and was previously in a relationship with her. The stranger's identity is eventually revealed as Roger Chillingworth, who is the antagonist of the novel and gets revenge on Reverend Dimmesdale for having an affair with Hester.

dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the end of the Chapter 2, the author has provided a description of a man, assumedly her husband, who took Hester Prynne from her home in England to "a new life...(in) a Continental city".  The man, whom Hester is remembering as she stands on the scaffold, is a scholar, "well stricken in years, pale, thin (and)...slightly deformed, with the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right". 

In the first three paragraphs of Chapter 3, the author makes it clear that the white man Hester sees standing "on the outskirts of the crowd" with an Indian is her husband, from whom she has been separated for good span of time.  Hester notices that "one of this man's shoulders (rises) higher than the other", and she is so unnerved at this recognition that "she press(es) her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that the poor babe utter(s) (a) cry of pain".  The stranger also reacts strongly upon seeing Hester, "a writhing horror twist(s) itself across his features (and)...his face darken(s) with some powerful emotion"; the woman he has come upon, standing in disgrace before the crowd for bearing a child out of wedlock, is his wife.  When the stranger perceives that Hester recognizes him, he gestures to her to remain silent by surreptitiously raising his finger and laying it on his lips.

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The Scarlet Letter

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