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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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CHAPTER 15: HESTER AND PEARL

Watching Chillingworth depart, all but scorching the countryside as he goes, Hester makes one of the private judgments that mark her lately as an independent thinker: "'Be it sin, or no,'... 'I hate the man!'"

She wrestles with the thought for a moment, because she knows she has no business hating anyone, especially a man she has wronged. Moreover, she has just described pardon to Chillingworth as a "priceless benefit." She knows she should be searching for that golden vein of forgiveness within herself. But the bitter memories that come flooding in are too strong for Christian doctrine.

Hester recalls with something close to horror the early days of her marriage, when she and Chillingworth would sit by the fire, exchanging smiles that represented lukewarm affection, perhaps, but surely not love.

She believes it her own worst sin that she consented to a marriage of contentment-or worse, convenience. And she judges it Chillingworth's foulest crime that he cheated her, when she was too young to know better, into thinking herself happy at his side.

As you read this description of Hester's thoughts, you may feel that, at long last, she has come into her own. She has ceased to struggle with imposed morality (hate may be sin, but she doesn't care). And she is finally confronting the truth of her own emotions. The Puritans may have condemned her for adultery, but her real sin (as she now believes) lay in being false to herself.


On the other hand, you may feel that the force of Hester's emotion has thrown her off balance. After all, she has just turned all her previously held moral convictions upside down. In only the last chapter, Hester accepted responsibility for Chillingworth's deterioration. Now she is blaming him for her own mistakes. "'He betrayed me!'" she says to herself. "'He has done me worse wrong than I did him!'"

What has caused Hester to swing in this wide circle? Perhaps we should see in her sudden fierce condemnation of Chillingworth no moral conclusion at all, but the passionate reaction of a woman who has suddenly realized she is still in love with another man.

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