In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, who does Pearl point out in the darkness that is watching the three of them?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Twelve of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hester and Pearl are returning from Governor Winthrop's house. They have been waiting with him and others as he approaches death. They are returning home so that Hester can sew his burial cloth, and they come upon Dimmesdale standing on the scaffold in the town square. He, as always, is struggling with his guilt over his affair with Hester, as well as his failure to accept the blame for Hester's "fall from grace." For seven years before, on that very scaffold, Hester was accused of adultery, but refused to identify the father of her child—her partner in the sinful relationship in which she was involved.

Dimmesdale is surprised to see them there at such a later hour, and asks them to join him. Hester explains where they have been. Pearl asks Dimmesdale if he would stand with them on that scaffold the next day at noon, but Dimmesdale says he will only stand with them on judgment day. At that moment, they see a shooting star—a "meteor"—in the sky above them:

[Pearl] withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmesdale's, and pointed across the street. But he clasped both his hands over his breast, and cast his eyes towards the zenith.

The sight of the meteor entrances Dimmesdale—for he sees not only the glow, but the image it seems to outline as it passes (which is an indication of his terrible sense of guilt):

...the minister, looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter,—the letter A,—marked out in lines of dull red light.

However, Dimmesdale also senses Pearl pointing to the darkness.

All the time that he gazed upward to the zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware that little Pearl was pointing her finger towards old Roger Chillingworth, who stood at no great distance from the scaffold.

As Dimmesdale perceives the glowing letter "A" in the sky, he also senses Chillingworth in the shadows nearby. The sinister man appears to have an uncharacteristic look on his face: perhaps it is an illusion caused by the meteor's red glow, or perhaps it is due to carelessness on his part—not to be hiding his inner feelings as he usually does; for the look he sends Dimmesdale is "malevolent."

It is at Chillingworth that Pearl points to as the meteor passes overhead.

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The Scarlet Letter

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