The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Quotes Page 1

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It was whispered, by those who peered after her, that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passageway of the interior. (3.33)

Okay, obviously the scarlet letter wasn't actually glowing. But this incident—and other supernatural type events—put us into a different world, one in which everyday natural events have supernatural meanings. To people who can see the supernatural where it doesn't exist, Hester's adultery would mean something very different.

"If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!" (3.26)

In today's legal system, there's a lot of talk about "victimless crimes," like certain drug offenses. By referring to Hester's "fellow-sinner," Dimmesdale seems to be suggesting that there's no such thing as a victimless sin: someone else is always dragged into it. Is that true? And is there really such a thing as a victimless crime?

"Heaven hath granted thee an open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over the evil within thee, and the sorrow without. Take heed how thou deniest to him—who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself—the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!" (3.26)

The problem with being a woman in these pre-birth control days—well, one of the many problems—is that secret adultery can quickly become very public pregnancy. Irony alert: the man saying this to Hester is Dimmesdale, whose ignominy (shame) is not open. By the end of the novel, we find out that it would have been better for him if it had been open. (Although probably not in the Junior kind of way.)

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