Last Updated on January 31, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 474
Hester is upset by the minister’s deteriorating health. She feels she must get close to him, but she must be careful about it. Her situation is very different now than it was when she was first branded with the scarlet letter. It has been seven years, and the Puritans are much kinder to her than they used to be. As the narrator says, the human heart “loves more readily than it hates.”
Hester’s new, virtuous life has charmed the Puritans. She has suffered bravely without complaining, and they respect that. In fact, she does so much good work that some people refuse to believe the A stands for adultery. Others are slower to change their opinions (such as the magistrates and wealthy men of Boston). Hester herself seems stripped of her vitality. Her rich, luxuriant hair is hidden. Her clothes are plain. Consequently, she seems cold and passionless (prized qualities among Puritans, in those days). If not for Pearl, the narrator says, Hester might’ve been like Anne Hutchinson—the leader of a religious sect.
Hester has spent the last seven years ruminating on the nature of existence and what it means to be a woman in a Puritan society. When she sees Reverend Dimmesdale on the scaffold, she lets go of that train of thought. Dimmesdale needs her help. She decides to confront Chillingworth.
One example from this chapter is “ethereal essence.”
Abel. A Biblical figure. His brother, Cain, killed him out of jealousy after God showed Abel favor. Abel’s story ends there. For more about Cain, see Chapter 5 Analysis: Allusions.
Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643). For more information on Anne Hutchinson, see Chapter 1 Analysis: Allusions.
While ruminating on the nature of femininity and the experience of being a woman in seventeenth-century Boston, Hester becomes lost “in the dark labyrinth of mind.” The metaphor equates the human mind with a maze that’s impossible to know or navigate.
The Scarlet Letter. This chapter marks an important shift in the meaning of the scarlet letter. Seven years of humble and virtuous living have made Hester an almost respectable figure in Boston. Many people refuse to think of her as a sinner and believe the letter A is short for Abel. Her mark of shame doesn’t just stand for sin, lust, and infamy. It’s also a driving force for good, inciting Hester to perform good deeds.
Gender. Hester’s experience gives Hawthorne a reason to ruminate on gender and femininity. He writes that women have been forced into certain roles in society without their direct consent. Hester knows it’s impossible for her life to change, but thinks perhaps society itself can change with regard to gender. It would mean breaking down society, then allowing women to assume what they think is a fair role in the community.