When Hester and her husband recognize each other in chapter III, what tone do you feel was used: Foreboding, ironic, agitated, elegiac, or despairing?Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Hester Prynne stands in ignominy upon the scafford in Chapter III of The Scarlet Letter, the vision of a man arrests her attention.  In fact, she is obviously agitated by the sight of him as she clutches her baby to her bosom with so much force that the baby cries in pain.

The arrival of her husband, who has been presumed lost for years sends a presentiment, or sense of forebodying, through Hester, who wonders why he has appeared.  Hawthorne writes,

Very soon, however, his look became keen and penetrative.  A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight.  His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which, nevertheless, he so instantaneously controlled by an effort of his will, that, save at a single moment, its expression might have passed for calmness.

When Hester looks toward him, he gains control of his emotions and calmly lifts his finger and lays it upon his lips. Then, he inquires of a townsman about the woman and how she came to be upon the scaffold.  After hearing Hester's history, Chillingworth tells the stranger,

"Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone.  But he will be known!--he will be known!--he will be known!"

As all this transpires, Hester fixes her gaze upon her husband.  She thinks that if she has to talk with him on such a hot day, it will be "terrible." 

Dreadful as it was, she was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these thousand witnesses.

Clearly, there is a foreboding in Hester Prynne at the sight of her husband; she wonders what he will do to her or to her child.

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The Scarlet Letter

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