The Scarlet Letter Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

Governor Bellingham returns to the mansion with Pastor John Wilson, Reverend Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. He remarks on Pearl's scarlet clothes, thinking fondly of Christmases back in England. Having never met Pearl before, it takes him a moment to recognize her as Hester Prynne's daughter. There has been some talk of taking Pearl away from Hester so that she can be brought up right, without her mother's sinful influence. The Governor asks Hester point blank if she thinks this is a good idea.

Hester insists that she can raise Pearl as well as anyone else, if not better. She points directly to the scarlet letter, saying, "I can teach my little pearl what I have learned from this!" Her public shame, she insists, will be a lesson to her daughter, who will grow up aware of the dangers of sin. Hearing this, the Governor asks John Wilson to examine the child. Despite hours of strict teaching from her mother, Pearl isn't able to quote her Catechisms or her Primer accurately. Finally, she declares that she wasn't made at all, but was instead plucked off the rose bush by the prison door.

Wilson and the Governor find Pearl's declaration reason enough to take her away from Hester. She disagrees, however. Desperate to maintain custody of her child, Hester turns to Dimmesdale, whom she knows to be sympathetic. He agrees that the bond between mother and daughter is too strong or sacred to break. He argues that Pearl was given to Hester as "the one blessing of her life" and that it would be wrong for them to take that blessing away after it was bestowed by God Himself.

Dimmesdale convinces the other men that Pearl should remain with Hester. All agree that the child will have to attend prayer meetings in addition to school. Dimmesdale withdraws a little, tired, and Pearl takes the opportunity to approach him. This is quite possibly the first real interaction between father and daughter, and it results in Pearl pressing Dimmesdale's hand to her cheek. Their moment of tenderness is fleeting, however, and Pearl quickly skips away down the hall.

Wilson suggests that there might be some witchcraft in Pearl, because her feet hardly seem to touch the ground. Chillingworth suggests that they undertake a philosophical investigation of the child to determine the identity of her father. Wilson crushes this idea, however, saying it would be a sin. He says they should leave it to Providence to reveal Pearl's father. Satisfied, Hester leaves the mansion only to be confronted by a known witch asking her to join in Devil worship. Hester says she would have gladly joined in had they taken Pearl with her; but since they did not, she declines the offer.

Allusions
 
King James I (1566 - 1625). Son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James ruled as King of Scotland for thirty-six years before assuming the throne of England. His reign saw many highs and lows, including his attempted assassination in the Gunpowder Plot, the release of the King James Version of the Bible, and the continuation of the Elizabethan Age of literature. Hawthorne alludes to one of the fashions popular under King James's rule.
 
John the Baptist. An important Biblical figure said to have baptized Jesus Christ. According to The Gospel of Mark, John was beheaded after Herod's daughter Salome demanded John's head be brought to her, even though Herod himself was fond of John. In traditional Christian iconography, John's head is shown resting on a platter. Hawthorne alludes to this beheading to describe the unfortunate visual effect of the Governor's antiquated clothes.
 
Lord of Misrule. In England, the Lord of Misrule presided over the Feast of Fools on Christmas. Typically, the Lord of Misrule was a peasant or someone of little station and was chosen by lots. Governor Bellingham thinks fondly of the Feast and of the so-called "children" of the Lord of Misrule, who ran around in red garments, much like Pearl.
 
Motifs
 
Color. Hawthorne repeatedly uses color to represent wealth, beauty, and sin. Here, he emphasizes the rich scarlet color of Pearl's clothes to emphasize that she's the product and the physical embodiment of sin. The Governor's description of her as a "little bird of scarlet plumage" highlights her inhuman characteristics.
 
Simile
 
Hawthorne uses a simile when he describes Pearl as "a wild tropical bird of rich plumage" about to take flight. This comparison emphasizes her inhuman, strange, and exotic qualities, making her less of a child and more of a creature.
 
Symbols
 
Pearl's Clothes. In Chapter 6, Hawthorne established that Pearl herself is a symbol of Hester's sin and shame. Here, he doubles down on that symbolism by emphasizing Pearl's scarlet clothes, which symbolize sin in the same way that Hester's scarlet letter does.
 
The Rose Bush. In Chapter 1, Hawthorne established the rose bush as a symbol of a kind of morality that might not otherwise be visible in the novel. When Pearl claims to have picked from this bush, she effectively characterizes herself as a moral character. This directly contradicts the image of her created by the townsfolk, who believe her to be the physical manifestation of sin.