Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

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Boston celebrates the inauguration of Massachusetts’s new governor with a holiday. Hester and Pearl join their neighbors in the marketplace, where everyone has gathered. Pearl doesn’t understand it’s a holiday and dislikes the fact that the jailer smiles at her. Once again, she asks Hester if Dimmesdale will take her hand, and once again, Hester tells her no. This is not the time for Dimmesdale to reveal his true identity. This is a Puritan holiday, and though it isn’t gloomy, exactly, there isn’t much in the way of revelry. Just a bit of wrestling and sport to entertain the masses.

In attendance at the celebration are a group of Native Americans, who wear traditional clothing and behave in a respectable manner, and a rowdy bunch of sailors, who get drunk and behave terribly in front of everyone. The captain of that sailing ship wears a gaudy outfit with gold ribbons and flaunts his wealth in front of the Puritans, who would be vilified if they wore such an outfit. Oddly enough, Chillingworth accompanies the ship’s captain, looking old and haggard next to the younger, grander figure. It turns out that he has secured passage on the very same ship as Hester and Dimmesdale. He intends to accompany them to Europe and torment the minister forever.


A good example of this can be found in the line, “as if a good and golden year were at length to pass over the poor old world.” Hawthorne uses alliteration in this sentence to emphasize the goodness to come and contrast it with the past.


The Elizabethan Age. The age of wealth and progress brought about by Queen Elizabeth I of England. For more on Queen Elizabeth, see Chapter 2 Analysis: Allusions.
King James I (1566–1626). For more on King James I, see Chapter 8 Analysis: Allusions.


Clothing. Hawthorne uses clothing to develop all his characters. In previous chapters, we saw Hester’s scarlet letter relegate her to a life of passionless austerity while Dimmesdale’s black glove became a symbol of his secret sin. One could argue that the level of austerity in one’s clothing directly corresponds to the amount of freedom each character has. Hester, for instance, has no freedom under the rule of the scarlet letter. The shipmaster, however, has all the freedom in the world, as we can see in his choice of clothing.


The Shipmaster’s Gold Ribbons. These gold ribbons are symbols not just of the shipmaster’s wealth but of the freedom to flaunt that wealth without fear of being subject to Boston’s puritanical laws. He’s a sailor, which means he has the right to live and dress as he wants, unlike Hester.

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Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis