The Scarlet Letter Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

Dimmesdale inwardly debates leaving Boston with Hester. On the one hand, he feels he must suffer for his crimes. On the other, he knows that he's already doomed, so why not seek comfort in Hester while he has the chance. While he's debating, Hester makes the decision. He will go. The thought of it fills him with joy, which he didn't think was possible. In her happiness, Hester briefly takes off the scarlet letter and throws it into the grass. Freed of its weight, Hester lets down her long, flowing hair for the first time in years. Her love for the minister is obvious.

Hester wants her, Pearl, and Dimmesdale to be a family. He doesn't know how to be a father and has long been afraid of Pearl, but brightens at the thought of getting to know the little girl. She seems so happy and carefree while playing in the woods. Many of the animals are friendly toward her, and it's said that a wolf allowed her to pet its head. She plays in the forest for a long time before her mother calls her back.

Alliteration
 
A good example of alliteration can be found in the line, "Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places." This alliteration emphasizes the relationship between heart and home.
 
Metaphor
 
Hawthorne uses a metaphor when he writes, "The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread." This passport grants her entry into metaphorical regions of the mind (shame, despair, solitude) that other women would avoid. In effect, these emotional regions are real places that Hester visits and comes to know.
 
Simile
 
One example of a simile from this chapter can be found in the description of the scarlet letter, which glitters "like a lost jewel" after Hester takes it off. This simile emphasizes both the vivid color of the letter and the fact that Hester has treasured its presence, just as she has treasured Pearl's.
 
Symbol
 
Hester's Hair. Hester's long, beautiful hair is a symbol of her sexuality. When it's hidden underneath her cap, she's passionless and repressed. In contrast, when her hair's down, she's full of love and desire. One could also argue that Hester is free when she has her hair down.
 
Themes
 
Love. There have been many kinds of love in the novel: physical love, motherly love, the love of God. For the most part, Hawthorne has avoided discussing sex, no doubt because of the Puritanical restriction against premarital and extramarital sex in this society. In this chapter, however, love and passion are brought to the forefront, and Hester's desire for the minister seems to bring her back to life. The love between them makes their plan to leave Boston feasible. Unfortunately, this love isn't strong enough to overpower Dimmesdale's guilt and self-loathing.