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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 15 Summary

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In Chapter 15 of ''The Scarlet Letter'', Hester Prynne examines how she feels about Roger Chillingworth, her husband. Hester also analyzes how her daughter has begun to mature, and how she can confront some of Pearl's curiosity.

A Detestable Man

Roger Chillingworth leaves Hester Prynne's side. She watches the twisted shape of her husband move away. He pauses every so often to bend over and examine an herb, his grizzled beard nearly touching the ground. He picks up an herb or pulls up a root to put into the basket dangling from his arm. Studying him, Hester almost expects the new spring grass to become 'blighted' at the touch of his feet.

Hester cannot imagine what type of plants Chillingworth is so eager to gather from the earth. She imagines they are either toxic, or will become so once he touches them. Although she has no idea where he might be going, she pictures him suddenly vanishing beneath the surface of the earth. In his place, a desolate wasteland covered with poisonous vegetation might appear. As these images fill her mind's eye, sinful or not, she cannot help but despise this man, her husband.

Hester was once happy with him. She used to sit with him in front of the fireplace in the evening. After he had spent the day alone, reading his scholarly books, he would remark how pleased her smile made him feel. Now, though, as she remembers all that has happened since, she views those times with Chillingworth 'among her ugliest remembrances.' And she is again reminded of how much she loathes her husband.

A Curious Girl

While her mother has been focused on Chillingworth, Pearl has been entertaining herself. She has been beguiled by her own reflection in the water; fashioned a toy boat and made it sail; thrown pebbles at sea birds; created a costume of seaweed; and crafted a replica of her mother's 'A' from eel-grass to adorn her own tiny chest.

'Pearl!' her mother calls out to her. Sprinting toward Hester, the little girl points her finger to her chest to show her mother she is wearing her very own letter 'A'. Hester, however, tells her daughter that the green letter has no meaning and asks the girl if she knows why her mother must wear her red 'A.' Pearl guesses that it is for the same reason that Reverend Dimmesdale so often holds his hand over his heart. When pressed again, it is clear Pearl does not have the correct answer. She then surprises Hester by taking her mother's hands and asking Hester to tell her the reason for the letter. Looking at the little girl, Hester realizes that Pearl has 'approached the age when she could be made a friend,' and trusted with confidences about Hester's life. She also recognizes for the first time that Pearl's bravery and strong will can help the girl transform from a mischievous child to a 'noble woman.'

Entertaining the idea that Pearl might ultimately comfort her, Hester considers that the truth may be too much for her young daughter now. When Pearl asks her mother to tell her why she must wear the scarlet 'A,' Hester explains, 'I wear it for the sake of its gold thread.'

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