Notes to Ch 8, The Elf-Child and the Minister
The Scarlet Letter

easy cap ...sl08.html#g01
An easy cap or other item of clothing is comfortable, fits well, soft, informal, worn around the house.
fashion of King James's reign ...sl08.html#g01
King James I of England reigned 1603-1625. It was he who sponsored the Authorized Version English translation now usually known as the King James Bible.
John the Baptist in a charger ...sl08.html#g01
See Mark 6:25. John was a preacher who came before Jesus. Herod granted Salome's wish to have John beheaded and the head presented on a plate, or charger. Specifically, John had said unto Herod, "It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife"--i.e., accused him of adultery. One wonders also whether Hawthorne by this allusion to John intended to parallel Hester and Salome, who did a strip tease. No doubt in Puritan times the Bible was seen as happening in daily life, not long ago, and daily occurences seemed to have a parallel in the Bible, and vice versa. This image of a head on a plate was fairly common in Victorian art. Here it comes to the eye simply because the elaborate ruff Bellingham wore went all the way around and completely hid his neck. It does not seem to go with the easy cap, unless it sets it off more as an affectation. Perhaps Hawthorne got the idea from looking at paintings of these Puritans that they wore those clothes in everyday life.
purple grapes...compelled to flourish ...sl08.html#g01
The Puritan immigrants tried to bring over their English agricultural knowledge, but the harsh New England winters made that difficult. Hawthorne, of course, knew that grapes grew wild in Boston--he had seen plenty of them at Brook Farm, for example--but these were not wine grape varieties.
professional contemporaries ...sl08.html#g01
In other words, he was nicer and better liked than the other Puritan ministers. (However, he switched sides after first backing Hutchinson.) Hawthorne paints Wilson as an old man, although he was in historical fact only in his fifties at this time, so the white beard might be premature.
health had severely suffered ...sl08.html#g02
In other words, Chillingsworth has settled in with Dimmesdale and the pastor has become weaker. Hawthorne explicitly states that the reason is "his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the pastoral relation," but this is merely the reason that Dimmesdale and others accept, while we are already being given the tipoff from the author that Chillingsworth is already working to weaken Dimmesdale--even though at this point Chillingsworth has only suspicions, not proof, of Dimmesdale being the father. Only a very alert reader would get such a clue from this statement--however, it is necessary for the author to plant the clues in the text so that later on we are prepared for their revelation. If we look too closely at it, we see that Dimmesdale must have weakened because of his own guilt, before Chillingsworth came to his aid as a doctor, otherwise Chillingsworth would not have had the chance to work on him.
the scarlet little figure ...sl08.html#g04
Pearl was dressed in red; we already know she had brown hair. Presumably her mother dressed her up to visit the governor, but he is rather impressed at how strange her costume is--ordinary children aged three would not have dressed this way.
in holiday-time ...sl08.html#g04
Bellingham was a lawyer and member of the gentry, not a Puritan minister, so he might have attended court balls and other such entertainments. A court masque or play would not have amused many Puritans. Here again we see the tension between the British aristocrat and the purest Puritans. The Lord of Misrule acted his part in revels around times such as Christmas, a perpetuation more of pagan customs than of Christian ones--the Puritans did not even celebrate Christmas (Thanksgiving was not an official holiday in New England until President Lincoln, later than this story.) For the best representation of this contrast, see The May-Pole of Merry Mount. However, in this particular instance Bellingham and Wilson are allied.
the sun has been shining ...sl08.html#g05
Wilson is saying that before he came to America he saw in his home country England the sun shining through stained glass windows, making images such as this. Some English Puritans went around smashing such windows and other images as idolatry, a point that is not followed up here. The smashing was authorized by the Long Parliament in 1643, a couple of years before the time of this chapter.
mother's child ...sl08.html#g06
In other words, Pearl has no father.
hue ...sl08.html#g07
Pearl's color or hue here might come from her red cheeks as well as her dress. Wilson even uses the term "rose," which we can relate to the rose-bush (love), the scarlet letter, the red apple in the Garden of Eden, the flaming cheeks of shame, the product of an immoral or "scarlet" woman. Of course, many people thought that a person's name had great significance, and so most people were named after Biblical characters. Needless to say, Puritans frowned on makeup or rouge on cheeks, that being a sign of immorality to them.
her of Babylon ...sl08.html#g08
See Revelation 17:3-5. Note that the reference does not say, "Whore of Babylon," though that is what many have termed this beast, who dressed in purple and scarlet, gold and pearls, and had a cup filled with fornication. What Bellingham says here, "her of Babylon," is either a Freudian slip or a clever device by which Hawthorne puts those words in our brain without actually writing them. Many Christian religious reformers have used the term "Whore of Babylon" to refer to church practices or personalities they did not approve of--the accusation of fornication is easy enough for anyone to make, and this particular beast was supposed to be the mother of all harlots, just as someone in church power might be considered to be, if one did not believe in him. The Puritans had used the term against the Catholic Church, but a governor would certainly not utter the phrase in the presence of a woman. See above for "the scarlet woman".
of authority and influence ...sl08.html#g10
Notice that the governor addresses Pearl and Hester in the second person--Pearl because she is a child, Hester perhaps because she is a woman, or perhaps because of her being a parishioner of this church. What gives Bellingham and the others the authority to act in this matter? He is not governor in law, only an assistant at this point. It seems that the decision is not a legal one for the government, like the pig, but rather one for the informal leadership, the elder men, to discuss and achieve a consensus on. At this point they are only investigating. Since there is no contrary decision, we do not know what might have happened if they had tried to take Pearl away from Hester.
discharge our consciences ...sl08.html#g10
It would make these authorities feel guilty if someone had informed them of a child not being brought up in the Puritan religion, and they did nothing.
the stain which that letter indicates ...sl08.html#g12
Here we re-enter a discussion of the meaning of the scarlet letter. Bellingham raises the point as to whether or not it is like a bill of attainder, a mark by God as on Cain's forehead that is inherited by Hester's child, and causes Pearl to be sinful, as well as having original sin that is not wiped clean by grace when entering the church.
this badge hath taught me ...sl08.html#g13
Hester bravely struggles with the authorities so she can keep Pearl. She points out that she is wearing the scarlet letter knowing full well that it is a sign of her sin, and that thereby she implicitly repents. Her act ought to show that she has learned something and can teach her child with humility. The point that she did not name the father of the child is ignored at this time. She states that the letter teaches her many things, presumably to do good works in repentance, but what she means is not explained at length here. The question is whether or not her sin will prevent her child from accepting the grace of God and thus saving its soul. Hester's soul's fate is not addressed here--she notes that she cannot expect to profit from God's grace.
the pearl of great price ...sl08.html#g16
See Matthew 13:45-6. The story is of a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. So is the kingdom of heaven like that. Wilson is saying that when Pearl has learned her religious instruction properly and is accepted as a member of the Puritan church, she may be eligible for God's grace to save her immortal soul and win for it the kingdom of heaven. She would wear this grace like a pearl in her bosom, as it would be more valuable to her than any worldly goods. This indirectly refers to the scarlet letter's place on Hester's bosom.
who made thee? ...sl08.html#g16
The inquiry to discover if Hester is a fit mother will turn on whether or not Pearl can answer some stock questions. The questions are from the Puritan catechism, a series of questions and answers meant to be memorized by children. The proper answer of course to this question is, "God," or some reference to the Heavenly Father. Since Pearl at age three already knows she has no father, this proves to be a little tough for her to answer properly. This question of course reflects the question Hester was asked on the scaffold and refused to answer.
New England Primer ...sl08.html#g17
A primer is a first book, to teach the letters of the alphabet, and the New England Primer was an early one, although it is not known to have been printed by this date. The Westminister Catechism book was printed in 1648 and was widely used by Puritans. Hawthorne does not go so far as to say that Hester used these particular books to teach Pearl her catechism, only that Pearl had learned as much as that by age three.
plucked by her mother off the bush ...sl08.html#g17
God only knows where children get such stories from, but a parent knows they show up at critical times such as this. Although fantastic, and a clever way to reintroduce our favorite flower symbol, there seems to be little reason to suspect that a demon is at work here. Perhaps it is just that a three-year-old girl finds it hard to repeat memorized phrases before a group of old men.
what a change had come over his features ...sl08.html#g19
Why had Chillingworth changed? We get no time to reflect on this, as Hester returns to the issue at hand. We are left with the impression that it is more than a physical change of dark color and slanting shoulders, but also a moral change. Is it not early in the story to introduce this? Or is it another clue that later on we will half-remember so we are not surprised at the plot development?
she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved ...sl08.html#g22
In holding on to Pearl, Hester has to explain her significance in a way that the men would understand. She uses the scarlet letter as a symbol, and makes Pearl a parallel, so that each is a torment as well as her only chance of salvation. Hester's tone is wild and peculiar, showing her underlying passion and emotion in contrast to the cold men, but also throwing in some overtones of opposition to the severe, saintly ministers of good (without love). Soon Pearl will express the same passion and love to Dimmesdale, only because he has spoken nicely to her mother, and presumably not because she knows consciously that he is her real father. Note that Pearl is distinguished from cold Hester and the cold men in that she is living and capable of being loved both temporally by earthly father figures and eternally by the Heavenly Father. Thus she is more than an emblem, a token, a symbol, or allegory.
to work in many ways upon her heart ...sl08.html#g28
Dimmesdale, filled with perhaps some love, now intervenes to reinforce Hester's argument, that Hester is meant by God to take care of Pearl and to be constantly reminded thereby of her sin and the necessity to repent and do good. Dimmesdale continues a little far in this vein, even saying that Hester's good works caring for Pearl's soul might cause forgiveness of her sins and access to heaven. But at least he does introduce the theme of love, where the other men could not.
witchcraft in her ...sl08.html#g35
It seems odd that Reverend Wilson would note that Pearl's behavior was like that of a witch--presumably he was a favorite with children and had insight into their behavior. But somebody has to say it at this point in the story if our romance is to carry on.
go with us to-night? ...sl08.html#g39
The plot gets thick here. In the first place, the author plainly states that this story of Hibbins was only "averred," and refuses to vouch himself for its accuracy. Then we are told that Hibbins was later executed as a witch, but described at this point only as having an "ill-omened" face, which is less than complete, but instead too abstract. It is hardly clear how her face could cast a shadow over the new house, for example. But in any case, it closes the chapter dramatically with the reference to witchcraft, the devil in the form of the Black Man, and some vague threats that the devil will try again to seize Pearl's soul. Hawthorne uses that threat as a means to reinforce the artistic conclusion, that Hester now has a concrete reason to take care of Pearl and to keep sin away.


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