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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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MISTRESS HIBBINS

Mistress Hibbins is a witch. Come on, you'll say, there is no such thing as a witch. Not around the corner from your house, perhaps. But there were witches in 17th- century Boston. Or, at least, there were women who thought they were witches and who conversed regularly with the devil.

Mistress Hibbins, as the Governor's sister and a woman of birth and breeding, raises an interesting question. Why would a lady of means and education choose to be known as a witch, when she was likely to end up at the stake?

Probably the principal appeal of witchcraft lay in its freedom. Alone among the women of this rigid, strait- laced society, witches could say and do as they liked.

They could express violent hatred, blatant sexual desire, and a slew of other emotions virtuous women had to suppress. Above all, witches enjoyed a rare privilege in a society that buried so many things-the privilege of telling the truth.


As you will see, Mistress Hibbins not only says what she likes. What she has to say is right. She has a sharp nose for secrets, this elegant old hag. She knows just which shy virgins or modest young deacons have been dancing in the forest, when Somebody was the fiddler.

Now, truth can be a nuisance. Who wants to be reminded all the time of midnight deeds and secret thoughts? The historical Mistress Hibbins, on whom the fictional character is based, was, in fact executed for witchcraft in 1656.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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