Notes to Ch 15, Hester and Pearl
The Scarlet Letter

deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane... ...sl15.html#g01
All these are plants that produce toxins to ward off browsing animals. They have been used as poisons and in witchs' brews. It is doubtful that Chillingworth would have used them to poison Dimmesdale--atropine would be a better choice, and one that would produce the symptoms noted. But they are mentioned here to remind us of witchcraft and to suggest that Chillingworth was a witch and might have poisoned others with them.
Be it a sin or no, I hate the man! ...sl15.html#g02
If we did or not before, now we readers do hate Chillingworth, since we have identified with Hester. It would be sin for a Christian to hate another person, even if they have done wrong to you. Of course, they are still married, and she is commanded to love her husband, and so her sin is compounded. But we cannot help but feel that Hester is motivated to this emotional hate by more than just a disinterested Christian love for Arthur. There must be something deeper, and the surface thought that she wants to protect a fellow sinner must be hiding a deeper love that Hester fails yet to recognize. If, in a few chapters, Dimmesdale goes through an identity crisis, we see here Hester also falling back from an intimacy crisis to an identity crisis, in the psychologist Erik Eriksen's typology. We see Hester starting to come out of her shell.
a live horse-shoe by the tail,...five-fingers...jelly-fish ...sl15.html#g09
A live horse-shoe means a horseshoe crab, not a crab but an arthropod of ancient origin that often is found on beaches. Picking it up by the tail seems a good way to handle it, but the tail sometimes falls off. Then the crab finds it difficult to tip its plate-shaped body over in case it is upset, and dies if it is not already dead. A five-fingers would be what is today usually called a starfish, not a fish but an echinoderm with usually five arms it uses to move around and to grasp its food, mollusks. Jellyfish are also common on beaches, but look rather sad when dried up on a beach. Although all this might be innocent child's play, it seems here that all these actions are naughty. Hawthorne grew up near the beach in Salem and recorded in his journals all these observations. He did not record if anyone scolded him for naughtiness in handling seashore animals, or whether this was his own idea later.
Pearl's inquisitiveness about the letter here seems appropriate. One wonders if Hawthorne himself had similar propensities when he grew up, wondering what happened to his father; probably nobody else wanted to talk about it.
I shall shut thee into the dark closet! ...sl15.html#g01
It sounds as if the mother is at the end of her ropes handling this active child, and surprises herself by threatening to frighten her by this confinement. We get the further idea that the black closet might be appropriate for this devilish elf-child. But no doubt Hester feels some shame in not being able to answer the question truthfully, and bring her child up properly. Much of the reluctance and shame must come from not being able to explain sex to this seven-year-old girl.

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Eldred, Eric. Notes to Ch. 15, The Scarlet Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.


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