In his Hawthorne and the Historical Romance of New England, Michael Davitt Bell considers the meaning of the contrast drawn between Esther
Dudley and John Hancock.
"In what I have been calling the objective sense, the historical meaning of this tale is quite simple. Old Esther Dudley represents the spirit of
the colonial past giving way to the spirit of the American future, as represented by Hancock. . . . But this apparent simplicity is deceptive,
and to understand the story fully one should pay attention to the final phrase of [the] description of Esther Dudley. She represents a 'decayed
past' which 'had once been a reality, but was now merely a vision of faded magnificence.' To say that Esther is no longer a 'reality' but a
'vision' is to say that she has passed into the dimension of subjective history, in which the past is indeed a 'vision' rather than a 'reality.'
Esther has become an object of historical contemplation, very much like the Province House itself, an object conducive to historical
associations. And as the story proceeds, Esther comes to symbolize those historical associations themselves, and perhaps even the historical
imagination which produces these associations. For unlike Hawthorne of the 'Province House' frame, who has such difficulty exercising his
historical imagination, Esther has no trouble in summoning up associations of past greatness from the scenes of the present" (204-5).
(courtesy Princeton University Press)