What are Hester's feelings toward the stranger that appears as she stands on the scaffold?"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter III of "The Scarlet Letter" as Hester clutches her child "fiercely to her breast" and realises her shame, she then looks outward and discerns a familiar form with one shoulder lower than the other.  And, when this distorted figure dressed in Indian garbs makes eye contact with her, he places his finger on his lips to communicate silence to Hester.  As humiliated as Hester is before the throng, she yet dreads the moment when "its protection should be withdrawn from her" and she be in the presence of this man alone.

Finally, when Hester is returned to the prison, the jailer is followed by this stranger "of singular aspect."  His experiences "in alchemy" enable him to tend to the nervous child, but Hester repels the medicine, fearing that he will do harm to her little Pearl; however, he convinces her that his intentions are harmless.  When he provides Hester a calming drink, she hesitates again. The stranger speaks to her while touching the scarlet letter:

Live, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, ...in the eyes of him whom thou didst call thy husband....And, that thou mayest live, take off this draught.

As he takes a chair, Hester senses his "refined cruelty."  Revealing his real reason for visiting her, Hester's husband demands that she reveal who her lover is; Hester replies, "That thou shalt never know!"

With chilling cruelty, the man declares, "Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!"  Frightened, Hester answers, "But thy words interpret thee as a terror!"  As the interview continues, Roger Chillingworth, as he calls himself, asks Hester if she is not afraid of nightmares.

'Why dost thou smile so at me?' asks Hester. 'Art thous like the Black Man that haunts the forest round about us?  Hast thou entice me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?'

'Not thy soul,' he answers with another smile. 'No, not thine.'

With terror, Hester realizes that Roger Chillingworth's words "He will be mine" denote that he will claim the very soul and psyche of the father of the child.

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The Scarlet Letter

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