Notes to Ch 23, The Revelation of the Scarlet
The Scarlet Letter
- words of
- See our earlier notes about
Pentecost. There are several
ironies here. Pentecost was supposed to make the recipients of
the Holy Ghost's grace be able to speak in all the
languages of the earth, so as to be understood by everyone.
However, we hear only the sound of the voice, not the words;
we can only understand it by its emotional tone, not by the
Puritan logic and significance of the text. We cannot read the
text itself for ourselves--we can only guess at its significance
by how it affects other readers. Next, we know the
speaker tells the truth, and the pathos is real, the sorrow a
living emotion, yet we know he is a hypocrite because he has not
told the full story of his sin--and the listeners are hypocrites
for believing what they wish, rather than listening to the true
significance of his message. We feel ashamed that Boston might
have been built on such sand. Then, we realize that these words of
flame are supposed to move and provoke the audience to repentance
and prayer for God's grace, and to take to heart the heavy
responsibility of supporting the growth of the new democracy and
religious mission, in a time of early capitalism and
materialism--just as Hawthorne wished to stir up his audience.
The audience applauds, but it does not understand, so it cannot
be moved and provoked, no matter how much Dimmesdale preaches--it
can only respond with the inarticulate shout of the crowd.
It seems they are self-satisfied with being the elect, their
fate is predestined and will be a fine one.
The Election Day sermon is Dimmesdale's greatest sermon, but
actions will have to speak louder than words. He will have to
serve as a model, a martyr--a great irony that one of their
greatest men must die and leave them before he is
appreciated--even Chillingworth tries to hold him back,
compounding the irony. But even after his final act,
is he ever really understood?
- it was his
mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny
- This idea of destiny behind the new settlements lived on to
the 1800s of Hawthorne, with the concept of "manifest
destiny" justifying an expansionism to the West and then
colonialism around the world.
Dimmesdale would have had no reason to give ruinous prophecies to
his audience--he did not blame them nor was bitter as Hester had
come to realize she might be. He is bringing closure to his life
and can only forecast a great future for everyone--provided we
are able to know ourselves and arrive at a better, balanced,
realistic, human, and God-fearing place in our lives.
The surviving Election Day sermons by other preachers of his time
do not seem to exhibit the high oratory that Hawthorne would have
been familiar with, having heard speakers such as Daniel Webster.
- the bar of Eternal
- The bar is the court, the place where the accused stand
before the judge. In this case, it would be the Last Judgment,
but here Dimmesdale is dying, so he will plead guilty before God,
who will judge him correspondingly in the last time.
- round about
- In the last chapter this was spelled as one word. Both
the single word and the two separate words are used in
Hawthorne's writings (but not hyphenated, except in
another usage). We have not regularized spelling here.
tore away the ministerial band from before his
- The band is the collar--we assume that the mark, whatever it
was, was on his chest, beneath his shirt. And what was the
mark? How did it get there? Who did it? What did it all
- Our copy-text has "concentrated," but the
Library of America text (based on the Centenary Edition) has
"concentred." We found two instances elsewhere of
this latter usage, and many of the former.
Summary. From here until the end of the book
we expect you to write your own summaries, following the models
of preceding chapters. E-mail to EricEldred@usa.net
your summary (after reading the chapter carefully). You will
get in return e-mail similar summaries made by others, which you
may then compare with your own to see if you have understood
the chapter. Use "Ch. 23 SL Summary" as the Subject:
Suggested MLA citations to this web page,
HTML code and text.
Use as in ?Help? page citation guide.
Eldred, Eric. <cite>Notes to Ch. 23, The Scarlet
Letter.</cite> <br />
1999. 23 Sep. 1999. <br />
Eldred, Eric. Notes to Ch. 23, The Scarlet
Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.
Please send your own contributions or corrections:
Fri Oct 1 17:20:05 EDT 1999
©Copyright 1999 Eric Eldred - see license
Nathaniel Hawthorne Home Page -