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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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Dimmesdale stretches forth his hand to Hester to ask for her support. He no longer has the strength to mount the scaffold alone. But now that he has brought himself to the brink of confession, he hesitates. "'Is this not better... than what we dreamed of in the forest?'" he asks. It is a real question, not a rhetorical one, for the minister's eyes are filled with anxiety and doubt.

What does Dimmesdale expect Hester to say? If he is waiting for a nod of approval from her, he has the wrong customer. Hester is the last person on earth to say that death is better than life, that sorrow and repentance are better than love and happiness. Much as she loves Dimmesdale, much as she may be tempted to ease his last moments, she cannot bring herself to call his choice anything but selfish. Better? she says. Yes, it's better, provided we both die and Pearl along with us.

It's all very well for you to confess, Hester is telling Dimmesdale. You won't have to face the consequences. But what about me? What about Pearl? There's no escape for us now. When you are gone, we'll still be left to pay the piper.

Nevertheless, she gives Dimmesdale her arm. The minister, supported by Hester and Pearl, climbs to the wooden platform where he confesses his sin to the people of Boston. It is a dramatic speech with an unforgettable ending. As the minister concludes, he tears away the cloth that covers his chest and reveals to the crowd the mark, shaped like a letter A, which has eaten into his flesh.


The market-place is in tumult. But on the scaffold, Dimmesdale is calm. He turns to Pearl to ask for the kiss she refused him in the forest. The child complies. As she leans her face toward her father's, a great change comes over her. She is truly touched for the first time in her young life. The wicked imp vanishes, replaced by a little girl with a heart.

Hester, having lost the lifetime she planned with Dimmesdale, now bargains for second best. Will they at least share eternity together? she asks her lover urgently. Dimmesdale is once again frightened by Hester's audacity. Hush, he tells her (for the second time in three days). Remember we have sinned. God is merciful, but perhaps not that merciful. Better not to look ahead. Better not to ask too much.

Dimmesdale sacrifices many things-love, life, honor-to make his peace with God. Does he find the peace he is looking for? We read his last words, and we wonder. "The law was broke!- the sin here so awfully revealed!- let these alone be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear!'" The minister makes a statement of faith. He leaves his fate to God. But he turns to heaven at the end darkly, doubtfully.

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