Notes to Ch 11, The Interior of a Heart
The Scarlet Letter

gift that Pentecost, in tongues of flame ...sl11.html#g01
Pentecost was the traditional holy day, fifty days after the first day of the Jewish Passover, for Christians the seventh Sunday after Easter. The Puritans did not actually celebrate such holidays of the Episcopal Church of England. The origin is in Acts 2:1-6ff, where we read: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.". . . .
Hawthorne had a deep view of language. In his American Note-Books of 1840 we read of their thick and darksome veil: "May 19th.--. . . Lights and shadows are continually flitting across my inward sky, and I know neither whence they come nor whither they go; nor do I inquire too closely into them. It is dangerous to look too minutely into such phenomena. It is apt to create a substance where at first there was a mere shadow. . . . If at any time there should seem to be an expression unintelligible from one soul to another, it is best not to strive to interpret it in earthly language, but wait for the soul to make itself understood; and, were we to wait a thousand years, we need deem it no more time than we can spare. . . . It is not that I have any love of mystery, but because I abhor it, and because I have often felt that words may be a thick and darksome veil of mystery between the soul and the truth which it seeks. Wretched were we, indeed, if we had no better means of communicating ourselves, no fairer garb in which to array our essential being, than these poor rags and tatters of Babel. Yet words are not without their use even for purposes of explanation,--but merely for explaining outward acts and all sorts of external things, leaving the soul's life and action to explain itself in its own way."
And ten years later, Hawthorne experimented with this natural language in The Marble Faun.
Pentecost is significant later when we find Dimmesdale at work on his great task of delivering the Election Day sermon. Election Day was fixed at fifty days after Easter. The governor of the colony was elected until 1684, when Charles II took away the charter. Hawthorne of course favored electing rather than appointing the governor.
Although the author states that New England Puritan ministers were not so gifted orators, there is evidence that this quality was expected.
It seems that there is a paradox in the Tongues of Flame at Pentecost--the gift was given to natural people who were sinners, and the flame (or baptism by the Holy Ghost) was intended to cleanse them--although here Hawthorne says the gift was for "chosen disciples," it was really for all humans.
It seems odd that there is discussion of Dimmesdale's eloquence here but in the end we never read a word of it--Hawthorne is able to communicate the message just by the sound of it, apparently. But perhaps this is just the beauty of the reflection again?
virgins of his church ...sl11.html#g01
"Virgins" here means young ladies. It has to be more than a bit ironic that they were so thrilled by all this talk of sin from one whose speech was supposed to be so safe and sanctified--their white bosoms must have turned red in the process, and they must have "transferred" (as the psychologists say) their budding sexual feelings to religious passion. But Dimmesdale can only try harder to tell the truth, and then everybody believes just the opposite.
the sanctity of Enoch ...sl11.html#g01
Genesis 5:21-24. "And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him."
The interpretation is that Enoch was alive when he walked with God, and did not have to die to go to Heaven. Someone would have to be pretty good to have that happen. So comparing Dimmesdale to him is quite extreme.
He had striven to put a cheat upon himself ...sl11.html#g07
This is supposed to mean he cheated (defrauded, tricked) himself by believing he had made a full confession. Alternatively, the word "escheat" means for property to revert back to the crown or government in certain cases--by placing such a clause in his wording he would let something happen that he did not control. accordance of Rome ...sl11.html#g01
The scourge or whip and such extreme self-denial and harm to the physical body was not Puritan practice. Some Catholic devotions of monks and the like practiced it.
to purify the body ...sl11.html#g01
Fasting was practiced as a group on certain occasions--there are still Fast Days set by New England legislatures because of the death of a governor or other important dates--now they have only the significance of another holiday and nobody goes without food. This self-starvation by Dimmesdale might account for his weakness, and the whipping or other self-mutilation might account for the red mark on his chest that some said they saw. Note that this is one of the only occasions upon which he is said to think of Hester and Pearl, and it is only with shame not love.
To the untrue man, the whole universe is false ...sl11.html#g01
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