The Scarlet Letter Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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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.

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...

(The entire section is 857 words.)