The Scarlet Letter Essential Quotes by Theme: Moral Cowardice

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Essential Quotes by Theme: Moral Cowardice

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 4

“Thou knowest,” said Hester,—for, depressed as she was, she could not endure this last quiet stab at the token of her shame,—“thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any.”
“True,” replied he. “It was my folly! I have said it. But, up to that epoch of my life, I had lived in vain. The world had been so cheerless! My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed to kindle one! It seemed not so wild a dream,—old as I was, and sombre as I was, and misshapen as I was,—that the simple bliss, which is scattered far and wide, for all mankind to gather up, might yet be mine. And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into its innermost chamber, and sought to warm thee by the warmth which thy presence made there!”
“I have greatly wronged thee,” murmured Hester.
“We have wronged each other,” answered he. “Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. Therefore, as a man who has not thought and philosophised in vain, I seek no vengeance, plot no evil against thee. Between thee and me, the scale hangs fairly balanced."


Hester, remaining in the prison cell following her stint on the scaffold, is so upset that a physician is sent for. Having learned some medicine in Europe and even more during his stay with the Indians, Chillingworth answers the call. (He has been posing as a doctor.) This gives him the opportunity to confront his wife. After explaining his absence as being the result of a hostage situation, he absolves himself of guilt for leaving Hester alone to come to the New World by...

(The entire section is 1790 words.)