The Scarlet Letter Chapter 16 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.

Chapter 16 of ''The Scarlet Letter'' is set in the forest where Hester Prynne goes, accompanied by her daughter Pearl, hoping to meet Arthur Dimmesdale. While in the forest, Hester and Pearl use their imaginations to pass the time as they wait for the minister to appear.

A Game

Hester Prynne wants to meet with Dimmesdale to speak to him about Chillingworth, the man he has recently befriended. Afraid that she might see her husband at Dimmesdale's house, she avoids going there. Knowing that Dimmesdale will be returning from a visit to an Indian village, Hester decides instead to appear on a forest path he will be using on his walk back.

The forest is dense with trees, and dark on this cool, dreary day. The darkness is relieved only occasionally by rays of sunlight shining through the gray clouds. 'Mother,' Pearl calls out as the rays vanish, 'the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom,' referring to the red 'A' with gold embroidery her mother wears. Hester tells her to run along, encouraging her to try to grab the sun's rays whenever the light appears on the path ahead of them. Pearl actually manages to catch the light and play in it until Hester catches up with her; the light vanishes as Hester tries to reach for it.

The Black Man

Pearl asks to hear a story. Clutching her mother's dress, she tells Hester she wants to hear about 'the Black Man,' a ghost of the forest who carries a big book. The Black Man wants the people he meets to sign their names in his book in their own blood. After they sign, he puts 'his mark' on their chests.

Pearl knows all about this ghost because she has overheard an elderly woman speaking about the Black Man. The woman has said that thousands of people have signed their names in his book, and mentioned that two of the people the ghost likes to meet in the wood at midnight are the Governor's sister, Mistress Hibbins, and Hester. According to the old woman, when Hester meets with the Black Man, the letter 'glows like a red flame' on her bosom. Gazing at the red 'A' on her mother's dress, Pearl asks, 'is this his mark?' Hester claims that it is, in hopes that her answer will put an end to Pearl's questions.

The Stream and the Minister

While talking, they walk deep into the forest. Among towering trees, they find a mossy patch where they sit and gaze at the rocky, leaf-scattered banks of a stream clogged with downed branches. The sound the stream makes is both calming and wistful. After listening to the stream for a few minutes, Pearl begins to speak to it, asking the stream, 'Why art thou so sad?'

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