What is the role and significance of Mistress Hibbins in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mistress Hibbins, the sister of the governor of the Puritan colony, calls to Hester Prynne in Chapter VIII as she leaves the mansion of the governor,

"Wilt thou go with us tonight?  There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one."

Mistress Hibbins, with her "ill-omened physiognomy" who appears to cast a shadow upon the governor's house, is, ironically, a witch.  With the leader of the Puritan colony having a witch for a sister, Hawthorne's scorn for the hypocrisy of the Puritans is clearly apparent.  In addition, that Hester refuses to accompany Mistress Hibbins because she "must keep watch over my little Pearl" or otherwise, she says, she would go and sign her name in the Black Man's book--"and that with own blood!"--is testimony to the validity of her plea that she be allowed to keep Pearl so she will live, and live righteously.  Further, Hester's interview with Mistress Hibbins illustrates how dependent Hester has become on the child of her illicit love affair now that she has been ostracized from society.

Later in the novel, Mistress Hibbins appears at unexpected moments; each time that she does enter the scene, however, either Hester or Arthur Dimmesdale suffer from remorse.  Thus it would seem that the witch serves as a reminder to Hester and the minister of their sin and of the darkness hidden in Puritanism.

jaredsmith | Student

i agree

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The Scarlet Letter

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