What are the references to red in Chapter 14 of The Scarlet Letter?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having resolved in a previous chapter to meet with her former husband and do whatever she can to rescue Dimmesdale from his grip, Hester approaches Roger Chillingworth to speak to him about the minister in Chapter XIV.  When she does draw near, Hester is shocked to witness what the last seven years have wrought upon the visage of Chillingsworth.  For, although he seems energetic still, his once intellectual face now seems "almost fierce" and "carefully guarded."  But, although he tries to guard his face, it appears blackened to Hester, and his eyes emanate a redness:

...There came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man's soul were on fire and kept on smoldering duskily within his breast, until, by some casual puff of passion, it was blown into a momentary flame....In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil's office.

Chillingworth's appearance has changed so because he has undertaken the "constant analysis" of a heart that is tortured; he has violated the secrets of Dimmesdale's heart.  In fact, Hester tells him that he has "burrowed and rankled" in the minister's heart, stealing the life from Dimmesdale. To this Chillingworth agrees, as the "lurid fire in his heart blaze(s)" before Hester's sight.  In seeking his revenge upon the lover of Hester, Chillingworth has transformed from a scholar into a devilish man who realizes that he has become a fiend, but who feels that he can do nothing to stop his being from becoming evil, telling Hester, "It is our fate."

In this chapter, therefore, both Hester and Chillingworth are touched by the marks of sin, which are symbolized by red.  Hester wears the scarlet A, which no official will order removed from her breast; she must live out her punishment. Chillingworth's eyes look red, his heart emits "a lurid fire."  He even admits to having become a fiend as he punishes and tortures the heart of Arthur Dimmesdale and virtually steals the man's soul, but he contends that he cannot be anything else, for as he tells Hester, "It is our fate."

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The Scarlet Letter

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