CHAPTER 10: ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER
After seeing Mr. Dimmesdale upon the scaffold, Hester was shocked. His condition had been so reduced from the man she had known before. She could readily infer that a terrible devil had been plotting against Mr. Dimmesdale’s well-being. And thus, due to the link of mutual crime between them, Hester decided that Mr. Dimmesdale had the right to her aid.
Much had changed since she had first stood upon the scaffold. Seven years had passed and she, with her scarlet letter, had long been a familiar sight to the townspeople.
It is a virtue of human nature that it loves more readily than it hates. And thus Hester –who never battled with the public, who never took advantage of it, who was always devoted to the town–was no longer treated as an outcast of society. It seemed as though she had found her place in it. In the households of the sick, she came not as a guest but as a rightful inhabitant. Elsewhere a token of sin, the scarlet letter was the taper (1) of the sick-chamber, comforting in its unearthly glimmer.
The townspeople found her so helpful that they refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification (2); instead, they insisted that it meant Able.
Yet when walking through the town’s streets, Hester never raised her head to receive the people’s greetings. If they approached her, she would only lay her finger on the scarlet letter and pass on silently. While this may have been pride, the public saw it as humility (3). Thus, they were inclined to perceive their former victim more kindly than she wished for, or perhaps, than she deserved.
The rulers and the wise and learned men of the community took longer to acknowledge Hester’s good qualities. Nevertheless, as time passed, their rigidness was relaxing into an expression of almost benevolence (4).
The townspeople had forgiven Hester for her moment of weakness. To strangers, they would call her “our Hester, our Hester, who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comforting to the afflicted (5)!”
Yet the effect of the scarlet letter on Hester herself was peculiar. It was almost as if her previous character had been withered (6) away under the heat of the red-hot letter’s brand. Her prior attractiveness had undergone a sad transformation, luxuriant hair now completely hidden beneath a cap. Having endured through a period of severity, the feminine character in her had departed. Alas, if she had been too tender, she would not have been able to endure through her penitence. In surviving, it is either that a woman’s tenderness be completely crushed or that it be buried so deeply into her heart that it would never once show itself. In regards to the situation of Hester, the latter was the case – she might indeed become a woman once more, perchance, if she only received a magic touch.
Her coldness could also be attributed to the way in which her life had turned from passion to thought. This was an age of expansion for the human intellect, and Hester imbibed (7) this spirit. This freedom of thought, though common on the other side of the Atlantic, would have been held by the townspeople as a deadlier crime than that stigmatized (8) by the scarlet letter. Her speculations (9) were often bold. It is presumed that if not for the little Pearl, she might have become an Ann Hutchinson of sorts, or a prophetess, sentenced to death for attempting to undermine (10) the foundations of the Puritan establishment.
Alas, Providence had assigned to Hester the education of her child. Yet the child’s nature was amiss, and Hester often asked herself, bitterly, whether it was for good that the poor creature had been born at all. The same dark question often rose in her mind with reference to the entirety of womanhood. Was existence even worth accepting? She had long decided in the negative. For women to assume fair position in society, the whole society-or at least the very patriarchal nature of man-must be torn down and modified. It was a hopeless task and she wandered in the labyrinth of her mind.
It was not uncommon for doubt to possess her, at times, whether it would not be better to send Pearl and herself to heaven at once.
Yet after witnessing the struggle with which Mr. Dimmesdale was faced, her mind reflected on a new theme. Under the semblance (12) of a friend, a secret enemy had been at his side, tampering (13) with his every move. Hester wondered if she had lacked in courage and loyalty in allowing the minister to become trapped in such a position. Yet, she justified to herself, at that time she had had no choice but to acquiesce (14) to Roger Chillingworth’s scheme of disguise. Now, however, she was determined to redeem (15) her error.
From those seven years, she had grown stronger, climbing her way to a higher point. On the other hand, old Roger Chillingworth had brought himself even below her level by the revenge to which he had stooped for. Thus, Hester resolved to meet her former husband and do whatever was in her power to rescue his victim. One afternoon, walking with Pearl, she came across the old physician.
After little Pearl had flown away to play by the shore, Hester accosted (16) the physician. “I would like to speak with you.”
“Aha! Mistress, I have good news for you. In the council, it was proposed that thy scarlet letter might be removed. I made my dearest entreaty (17) in your favor Hester!”
“It lies not in their hands,” she replied calmly. “If I am worthy, the letter will fall away by itself or its meaning will be transformed.”
All this while, Hester was struck by his expression. Once calm and quiet, he now seemed fierce. Blackness flickered over his visage, as though by deriving (18) his enjoyment from the torture of the minister’s heart, he had become a devil.
“I wish to speak of thy miserable man.”
“What of him?” His voice was eager, as if he loved the topic. “Speak freely.”
“Seven years ago, I chose to remain silent about thy true identity. Yet, seeing what has happened, I feel as though I have betrayed him! Thou cause him to die daily and yet he knows thee not!”
“What evil have I done him? If not for my aid, he would have died long ago.”
“That would have been for the better!”
“Yea, thou are right!” Fire burned from his eyes. “This man has suffered more than any mortal, yet he is blind to his tormenter, a fiend crafted especially for him!” Suddenly, he looked at himself with horror, as if he could not believe what he had become.
Noticing this look, Hester spoke. “Hast thou not tortured him enough?”
“No! Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I was prior? Was I not kind, true, and just?”
“All that and more.”
“And what I am now? A fiend! Who made me so?”
“It was myself too, not only he!”
“Yet the scarlet letter has avenged (19) me,” he replied, smiling.
“I must reveal the secret,” she responded firmly. “What may be the result, I know not. But there is no good for him–for me–for thee–even for Pearl in this world!”
“Hester, I pity thee!” He spoke, almost with admiration at the majestic nature of her despair.
“And I thee! Hatred has transformed a just man into a fiend. Can thou not still forgive?”
“Peace, Hester, I have no power to pardon! Thou didst plant the germ (20) of evil, but since that moment it has all been fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now go thy way and deal with yonder man as thou desire.”
1/taper(n): candlestick; lantern; light
2/signification(n): the meaning a symbol conveys; a symbol’s purport
3/humility(n): a state of modesty; humbleness
4/benevolence(n): a state of charitableness characterized by actions of goodwill; the inclination to be kind; kindness
5/afflicted(n): referring to people who are sick and in pain; people in suffering
6/wither(v): to shrivel; to be damaged; to lose vitality and life
7/imbibe(v): to absorb; to learn; to familiarize oneself with; to soak up
8/stigmatize(v): to condemn; to be regarded with shame and disapproval; to denounce
9/speculation(n): an idea about the unknown; a thought or inference that lacks strong evidence; a supposition
10/undermine(v): to weaken someone or something in a gradual manner; to impair; to undercut; to sabotage
11/office(n): a job; a role; a necessary or intended function
12/semblance(n): a resemblance; an outward appearance (that is often contrary to the reality or the interior); a facade; a pretense
13/tamper(v): to interfere with; to meddle with; to cause damage to; to corrupt
14/acquiesce(v): to agree to a request reluctantly; to accept a condition; to comply
15/redeem(v): to make up for one’s wrongdoings; to compensate for a fault or mistake
16/accost(v): to confront; to speak to someone in a challenging or argumentative manner
17/entreaty(n): a plea; a request; an appeal
18/derive(v): to take; to attain; to obtain something from someone; to extract
19/avenge(v): to take revenge for; to inflict harm upon another to make up for a wrong done to oneself
20/germ(n): a seed; a bud; the earliest part of an organism that is intended to grow larger