Scarlet letter chapter 5 Essay

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Scarlet letter chapter 5

Chapter Five: Hester at Her Needle
Hester is released from prison and finds a cottage in the woods, near the outskirts of the
city, to set up her new life. Hawthorne comments on the fact that she does not avail
herself of the opportunity to escape to a new life without shame in some other city. He
remarks that often people are irresistibly drawn to live near the place where a great has
occurred. He further comments that even if that is not the reason, Hester may have been
inclined to remain in Boston because her secret lover still lived there.

Hester's skill at needlework, earlier shown in the fine way that she displayed the scarlet
letter, allows her to maintain a fairly stable lifestyle. However, her reputation as an
outcast and loner causes a certain aura to be cast around her. Thus, Hawthorne points out
that young children often crept up to her house to spy on her while she worked. He also
comments that in spite of her excellent needlework, she was never called upon to make a
bridal gown due to her reputation.

Hester spends her time working on the projects which bring in her income, and devotes the
remainder of her work to creating garments for the poor. She lives simply with the sole
exception being that she creates amazing dresses of fine fabrics for Pearl.

Hester's social life is virtually eliminated as a result of her shameful history. She is
treated so poorly that often preachers will stop in the street and start to deliver a
lecture as she walks by. Hester also begins to hate children, who unconsciously realize
there is something different about her and thus start to follow her with "shrill cries"
through the city streets.

One of the things which Hester starts to notice is that every once in a while she receives
a sympathetic glance, and feels like she has a companion in her sin. Hawthorne puts it,
"it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts." This is
interesting because many of the people Hawthorne accuses of hypocrisy as regards the
scarlet letter are, "a venerable minister or magistrate," people who are viewed as models
of "piety and justice."

The fact that Hester stays in Boston is likely due to the fact that she is too ashamed to
go anywhere else. With the humiliation of receiving the scarlet letter, her tenacity and
will-power are destroyed, causing her to accept her fate and remain in Boston.

The symbolism of the scarlet letter is expanded in this chapter. Whereas at first it
represented Hester's adultery and also her needlework skills, it now takes on two more
meanings. Foremost, the letter begins to represent the hidden shame of the community. Thus
preachers will stop in the street and give sermons when they see Hester. The letter
therefore becomes an example of crime and acts a deterrent for others in the community.

However, Hawthorne indicates that Hester is now able to see when other people sympathize
with her. Thus the letter serves as a gateway into other people's secret crimes, and acts
as a focal point for the shame of the entire community.. The letter can thus also be
interpreted as a symbol of shame shared by everyone, rather than by Hester alone.

The treatment of Hester almost reaches a low point in this chapter. She is cut off
socially in the sense that she has no friends and lives in an isolated cottage. In
addition, Hester becomes an outcast which even the children mock, causing her more pain.
Hawthorne indicates that even though Hester spends time helping to make clothes for the
poor, they treat her badly in spite of her good intentions.

Her choice of habitation is crucial to the symbolism within the novel. The forest
represents love, or the wilderness where the strict morals of the Puritan community cannot
apply. Thus, when Hester makes her home on the outskirts of the city, directly on the edge
of the woods, she is putting herself in a place of limbo between the moral and the immoral
universes. This is important because it shows that Hester does not live under the strict
Puritanical moral code, but rather tries to live in both worlds simultaneously.

The attentions Hester gives to designing Pearl's clothing is significant. Pearl should be
viewed as a living extension of the scarlet letter. Thus Hester permits herself the
extravagance of attiring Pearl in beautiful clothing much the way she decorated the letter
upon her breast. Pearl, even more than the letter, embodies the shame of Hester's

Chapter Six: Pearl
Hawthorne discusses the choice of the name Pearl. He indicates that Hester chose the name
to represent something of great value- namely the cost of her virtue. Hester is afraid
that nothing good can come from her sin, and thus she fears that Pearl will in some way be
retribution for her sinful passion.

Hester spends hours clothing Pearl in the richest garments she can find, even though
Hawthorne comments that Pearl would appear just as beautiful in any garment. Hester's
passion exists in the child's demeanor in the form of "flightiness of temper...and even
some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart."

Pearl turns out to be unmanageable as a child, forcing Hester to let her do what she
wants. Pearl has a particular mood where nothing Hester does can persuade the child to
change her stance, and so eventually Hester "[is] ultimately compelled to stand aside, and
permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses."

Pearl is compared to a witch in both the way she interacts with other children and in the
way she plays. Having been scorned by the Puritans all her young life, Pearl is positively
wrathful when other children approach her, going so far as to throw stones and scream at
them. With toys, Pearl always plays games in which she destroys everything.

Hawthorne points out that the first thing Pearl saw in her infancy was the scarlet letter.
As a baby she even reached up and touched the letter, causing her mother intense agony at
the shame it generated in her. Pearl later played a game where she threw flowers at her
mother and jumped around in glee every time she hit the scarlet letter.

At one point Hester asks Pearl, "Child, what art thou?" to which Pearl replies that she is
Hester's little Pearl. Pearl eventually asks who sent her to Hester, to which Hester
replies that the Heavenly Father sent her. Pearl responds with, "He did not send me...I
have no Heavenly Father!" Pearl then presses Hester to tell her who her father is, saying,
"Tell me! Tell me! It is thou who must tell me!" Hester is unable to answer her question
and remains silent, thinking about the fact that some Puritans think Pearl is the child of
a demon.

The description of Pearl in this chapter is intended to manifest Pearl as the living
embodiment of her mother's sin. Thus the name Pearl itself is misleading. A pearl is a
beautiful object found inside an ugly oyster, and at the same time contains a hard kernel
of sand within it. Thus Hawthorne is trying to point out that appearances are deceiving,
and that Pearl is anything but a beautiful person.

As was foreshadowed earlier, Pearl has become the living symbol of the scarlet letter.
This is highlighted by the magnificent clothing Hester puts on her child, similarly to the
way she decorated the scarlet letter. Pearl becomes the letter in another sense as well.
Since childhood she has been mesmerized by the scarlet letter on her mother's breast, and
enjoys playing with the letter. Thus she throws flowers at it and grabs for it even before
she can speak.

Pearl's interactions with other people also lend credence to the view of her as nothing
more than a living scarlet letter. She has no social skills and no interaction with other
children, instead throwing stones at them and screaming insults. This creates a situation
where Pearl's only reason for existence is to pry open the secret of her birth, and to
cause her mother suffering.

The chapter tellingly ends with Pearl demanding that her mother tell her who her true
father is. This is foreshadowing a future event where Pearl will likely be the one to
reveal her father. Hawthorne is also making a social commentary here, namely that Pearl
needs both a father and mother to become a complete child. Without a father, Hawthorne can
only describe her as a "witch" or as a child of the devil.

Chapter Seven: The Governor's Hall
Continues for 6 more pages >>

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