The Scarlet Letter Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

Hester and Pearl leave Chillingworth to his own devices. Seeing him bent over, collecting what may well be poisonous herbs, Hester finally admits to herself that she hates the man. She can't remember why she married him. Meanwhile, Pearl has been entertaining herself in the shallows, building boats out of birch-bark and playing with the starfish ("five-fingers"). Her often violent nature reveals itself yet again when she begins throwing rocks at a flock of birds. This amuses her until she realizes she's injured one of the birds, potentially breaking its wing.

Tired of her games, Pearl decides to fashion herself a headdress out of seaweed. She makes an entire mermaid costume, finishing it off with a green letter "A" mimicking her mother's scarlet one. Hester chastises Pearl, asking the girl if she understands why her mother has been forced to wear the scarlet letter. Pearl says it's the same reason Dimmesdale puts his hand over his heart, but when pressed she can't explain what she means. This leads Hester to ruminate, once again, on Pearl's strange behavior. Even her displays of affection is hard to predict, and Hester never knows when Pearl will be kind to her and when she'll ignore her entirely. She loves her daughter anyway.

Pearl asks her mother point blank what the scarlet letter means. She asks again and again, but Hester refuses to explain.

Alliteration
 
Two examples of this literary device can be found in the line "...a face that haunted men's memories longer than they liked."
 
Personification
 
Hawthorne personifies an April breeze as a small child, "which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of moods, and chills oftener than caresses you." In this, he characterizes Pearl's love for her mother as a fleeting, mercurial thing, subject to all manner of changes and likely to disappear at any moment.
 
Symbols
 
The Green Letter. Pearl fashions this letter out of eelgrass, making it "freshly green" instead of scarlet. Though Hester declares that it has "no purport" (no meaning), Pearl clearly intends it as a subversion of the original letter's meaning. Its green color links it to nature, growth, and beauty instead of sin, shame, and fire. Thus, Hester's "sin" of adultery is reimagined as a perfectly natural and understandable mistake.
 
Themes
 
Love. Hawthorne's focus in this chapter is on the relationship between Hester and Pearl. He spends a great deal of time investigating the nature of Pearl's love for her mother, likening it to an April breeze that comes and goes unpredictably. Hester's love, on the other hand, is that of a mother who thinks of her child as both a blessing and a burden. She loves Pearl endlessly, but fears for her soul constantly. No doubt this kind of love is familiar to Christian parents.
 
Nature. Once again, Hawthorne likens Pearl to an animal by calling her "wild." Her childish curiosity, elfin beauty, and propensity for violence all contribute to her animal nature, making her seem alternately savage, petulant, and innocent. Like the natural world, Pearl cannot truly be tamed. She also feels a strong affinity with other animals, and though she throws rocks at the sea-fowl she's upset when she injures one. One could argue that Pearl's "wild" behavior stems from her inability to understand the consequences of her actions. Once could also argue that Pearl merely appears wild because she isn't repressed like the other Puritans.