Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 8

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 8

The Elf-Child and the Minister 

  • Governor Bellingham comes towards Hester Prynne and her child.
  • He's got company: ministers John Wilson and Arthur Dimmesdale and… physician Roger Chillingworth.
  • When they come in the room, Hester is half-hidden by a curtain, so the men only see little Pearl.
  • They ask her who she is and who she belongs to, and finally realize that she is Hester Prynne's child, whom they have been discussing, and, oh look, here's Hester herself, surprise surprise.
  • The Governor doesn't waste time asking why they should leave the child in Hester's care.
  • Hester points to her scarlet letter, and responds that they should leave Pearl with her because of all she has learned from this.
  • Uh, duh, says the governor. That's exactly why they want to take Pearl away.
  • Hester says that the letter teaches her all the time the lessons she needs to impart to her child.
  • The Rev. Wilson questions Pearl to find out how much she knows of her religion. Question #1: "Who made thee?"
  • (Quick Brain Snack: "Who made thee" is the first question in many versions of the Christian catechism for children. A catechism is a series of questions and answers that teaches the basic principles of something, usually Christianity.)
  • Pearl knows the answer, but, since she wants to be difficult, she says that her mother plucked her off one of the wild rose bushes that grew by the prison door.
  • Uh-oh. The Governor is horrified by Pearl's response and all but snatches her away from Hester right then.
  • Hester grabs her child and tells the Governor that God gave Pearl to her—Pearl is her happiness and torture, all wrapped in one.
  • She threatens to kill herself, like, melodramatic, much?
  • Finally, she begs Revered Dimmesdale to intervene.
  • The Reverend Dimmesdale isn't looking too good. He's also got a peculiar habit of placing a hand over his head when he's worked up.
  • But he does speaks up, claiming that the child will be Hester's salvation.
  • The other men decide to leave Pearl alone (for now), but they want to make sure she knows her religion.
  • When Dimmesdale wanders off to a corner, Pearl creeps over to him and places his hand on her cheek.
  • Dimmesdale responds as all good men respond to the innocence and affection of a child (so says the narrator) and kisses her forehead.
  • On her way home, Hester meets Governor Bellingham's sister, who invites her to a party.
  • Cool! We'll bring the party mix!
  • Oh, no. Not that kind of party. The "merry company" kind of party, held in honor of the "Black Man," i.e., Satan.
  • Did we mention that Governor Bellingham's sister would be executed a few years later as a witch?
  • Hester says thanks but no thanks, and the narrator uses this as proof that Pearl is already saving her mom.

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