Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

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Hester decides to speak to Dimmesdale. However, because of her social standing, she can’t approach him directly about their secret. It takes days for her to arrange a meeting. Finally, she learns that he’s going to be returning from a trip that afternoon and that she’ll be able cross paths with him in the woods. On the way there, Pearl makes the callous observation that the sun “does not love” Hester and won’t shine on her. Pearl dances around, enjoying the sun.

Pearl asks Hester to tell her a story about the “Black Man,” or the devil. She has heard a story about witches like old Mistress Hibbins meeting with the Black Man in the woods and performing various satanic rituals. There are rumors that Hester participates in these rituals, but she denies them. Hester and Pearl walk hand in hand toward a babbling brook. Hester asks the girl to play while she talks to Dimmesdale, who is coming up the road, looking miserable.


There are two prominent examples of alliteration in the line “the sportive sunlight—feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day.”


Pearl personifies the sunshine when she says it “does not love” Hester. This implies that nature itself has been biased against Hester because of the scarlet letter. This may, of course, simply be a product of Puritan superstitions.


Hawthorne uses a simile when he describes the babbling of a brook as sounding “like the voice of a young child.” This gives the natural world human qualities, just as the similes equating Pearl with a bird give the human girl animal qualities.


The Devil’s Book. This book is a symbol of the Black Man’s (devil’s) power. Typically, when someone sells their soul, they must sign their name in this book. Presumably, the book includes a ledger of the souls that have been signed over to the devil. It’s unclear what else can be found inside the book.


Devil Worship. Puritans and many other Christians believed that it was possible to sell one’s soul to Satan. In the seventeenth century, when this novel is set, stories spread of women (witches) communing with the devil in the forests of New England. Most often, these stories of the devil made reference to a “book,” in which the devil kept records of the souls under his control. Selling one’s soul typically meant signing said book, thus entering into a contract with the devil. It’s unclear what else takes place during this devil worship.

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Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis