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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 8 Summary

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson is a summary of chapter eight from Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter.' The lesson includes an overview of events leading to this chapter as well as a discussion of some important allusions and themes. There is also a brief lesson summary.

What Leads to Chapter Eight?

Hester Prynne, found guilty of adultery, has been sentenced to public shaming and prison time by the Puritan leadership of Massachusetts Bay Colony. During her public shaming, she sees a familiar face in the crowd who is later revealed to be her estranged husband Roger Prynne, but he is using a false identity, calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He visits Hester when she is off the scaffold and back in the prison with her infant daughter, Pearl. Hester will not reveal her co-sinner but Roger forgives her for her adultery. He also asks Hester to keep his identity a secret, to which she agrees though she has trepidations.

The story then skips forward by three years and Hester has moved to an abandoned cottage outside the town, where she takes in work as a seamstress. She dresses Pearl in colorful, beautiful clothing which is nothing like the drab, plain, Puritan style of the townsfolk. Hester is still shunned and treated as a pariah even while her tormentors are engaging her services as a seamstress (including Governor Bellingham, who was a real historical figure). Meanwhile, Roger Chillingworth has become obsessed with finding out who Hester 'sinned' with and it becomes his driving goal in life. Just before chapter eight begins, Hester finds out that the Governor and townspeople believe Pearl should be taken from her because Pearl is possessed or, if she is not possessed, because Hester is not a good influence on her.

Hester Prynne and Pearl
Hester Prynne and Pearl

Delivering the Gloves

Hester takes Pearl with her to Governor Bellingham's mansion, ostensibly to drop off a pair of gloves the governor had requested from Hester but also to question Bellingham about why he wants to take Pearl away. Bellingham is meeting with two men, Dimmesdale (Hester's minister, who is less disposed towards hellfire ministry than many of the other leaders in town) and Reverend Wilson. Pearl is seen by Reverend Wilson, a very stereotypically Puritan minister who preaches a hellfire type message (and moralized at Hester while she was on the scaffold three years previously, condemning her for her 'sin') as well as Chillingworth and Bellingham. The men watch Pearl in her scarlet dress, dancing and playing in the governor's house, and they joke that she must be a devil child.

A Devil's Child

Reverend Wilson asks Pearl who 'made' her, expecting the answer 'God' as a good Puritan child would reply. Pearl tells him that she was not born but that her mother 'plucked her from the rosebush by the prison door'. This reminds us of the fact that the rosebush was a very significant symbol in chapter one, a bright and wild contrast to the drab and stark town and demoralizing prison. Wilson is horrified by the answer and declares they must investigate Hester more closely. Hester shrieks at Wilson that God gave Pearl to her and she will die before giving up Pearl. She turns to Dimmesdale for help.

A Life-Long Reminder

Dimmesdale defends Hester passionately. He tells Wilson and Bellingham that Pearl is a living reminder of Hester's sin and is best left with Hester. Pearl takes Dimmesdale's hand while he is speaking, then lets go to run down the hall and play. Bellingham says that Pearl's feet do not even touch the ground, much like a witch. Bellingham also says that Dimmesdale's speech has convinced him to leave Pearl with Hester, but he wonders at Dimmesdale's passion on the subject.

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