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Literature Related to Native Americans and The Scarlet Letter

Pouch with Tassels
Pouch with Tassels (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
The following 18 chapters (1 - The Prison Door, 2 - The Market Place, 3 - The Recognition, 4- The Interview, 5 - Hester at her Needle, 6 - Pearl, 7 - The Governor's Hall, 9 - The Leech, 10 - The Leech and his Patient, 13 - Another View of Hester, 15 - Hester and Pearl, 16 - A Forest Walk, 17 - The Pastor and his Parishner, 18 - A Flood of Sunshine, 19 - The Child at the Brook-side, 20 - The Minister in a Maze, 22 - The Procession, and 24 - Conclusion) give us glimpses of Hester and Pearl's passions reflected in the imagery of the wilderness and the heathen Indian. These chapters contrast the freedom of the forest and Hester's home on the fringe of the forest with
the constraints of the Puritans who have isolated Hester and Pearl . These chapters also examine the medical practices of Chillingsworth whose knowledge of herbs gained during his time of captivity with the Indians becomes terribly twisted as he used the herbs for evil and not for the healing that the Indians had taught him.
  • In Chapter 1 "The Prison-Door," Hawthorne mentions the rose bush outside the prison that will survive many years after the fall of huge pines and oaks that dwarf it. Although this excerpt does not directly mention Indians, it indirectly refers to one of Hawthorne's much used themes of the disappearance of the primordial forest as well as the noble savage that inhabited the forest. He laments that both become extinct.

    Full text of Chapter 1 - "The Prison Door"

  • In Chapter 2 "The Market Place," Hawthorne makes reference to Indians as vagrants who have no useful function in society and have succumbed to the disease of alcoholism. They are merely riffraff to be shunned, mocked or driven from civilized society.

    Full text of Chapter 2 - "The Market Place"

  • In Chapter 3 - "The Recognition," Hawthorne makes four references to Indians. First he utilizes them kidnapping Roger Chillingworth as part of the plot that partially explains his two years absence from the side of his wife. An Indian is Chillingworth's companion as he learns that his wife has committed adultery. Hawthorne uses the word "savage" to describe part of Chillingworth's garb; undoubtedly that part of his outfit would have been gleamed from his Indian captors. Second he alludes to the historical practice of exchanging prisoners for other prisoners or goods or money. Third Hawthorne ironically contrasts how the punishing of "iniquity" must be such a marvelous contrast to the behavior he observed among the Indians. Fourth he shows the easy camaraderie Chillingworth has with the Indian - directly contrasting the relationship we might have assumed a white man to have with Indians.

    Full text of chapter 3 - "The Recognition"

  • In Chapter 4 - "The Interview," Hawthorne makes six references to Indians and one reference to another, darker inhabitant of the forest. Many of the references relate to the healing talents and herbal medicinal knowledge that Chillingworth has adopted and adapted from his Indian captors. References continue about the tradition of ransoming Indian captives. Again Hawthorne refers to the forest, home to these Indians, as "vast and dismal."

    Full text of chapter 4 - "The Interview"

  • In Chapter 5 - "Hester at Her Needle," Hawthorne only alludes once to Indians as he mentions that Hester could have found sanctuary among those who dwell in the forest and have different laws.

    Full text of chapter 5 - "Hester at her Needle"

  • In Chapter 6 - "Pearl," Hawthorne shows the Puritan children imitating their elders and taking vengeance upon their enemies such as the Quakers, witches, or Indians. He has the child behave "savagely" as she throws stones and screams at those who taunt her. He likens her behavior and strange words to a witch. But her behavior could also be likened to an Indian whose language is unknown to the Puritans.

    Full text of chapter 6 - "Pearl"

  • In Chapter 7 - "The Governor's Hall," Hawthorne alludes to war against the now extinct Algonquian Massachusetts Indians (1636-1637). He describes the armor Governor Bellingham wore to fight against the Indians and then later displayed in his mansion. It is curious that he alludes to Rev. Mr Blackstone (1595-1675.) This early settler of Boston hated the Puritans so he allied himself with the Indians after the Puritans arrived.

    Full text of chapter 7 - "The Governor's Hall"

  • In Chapter 9 - "The Leech," Hawthorne makes five references to Indians. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale become housemates as well as doctor and patient. Hawthorne focuses on Chillingworth's professional medicinal use of healing herbs that he learned from the Indians. Some rumor that Chillingworth had engaged in suspicious chants with the Indians. These might be compared to rumors of evil incantations of the Black man of the forest.

    Full text of chapter 9 - "The Leech"

  • In Chapter 10 - "The Leech and His Patient," Hawthorne shows a parallel between Chillingworth examining and gathering evil-looking weeds from a grave, signifying unrevealed crimes with Pearl examining and gathering burrs to throw upon her mother's scarlet A and to throw at Dimmesdale, signifying a thorny link between her unacknowledged parents that can't be shaken. Chillingworth has turned away from the healing properties that the Indians taught and instead seeks to learn the hidden secrets buried in sinners. Perhaps Pearl's behavior as she skips irreverently among the tombstones could be likened to Indians dancing at the celebration of death.

    Full text of chapter 10 - "The Leech and his Patient"

  • In Chapter 13 - "Another View of Hester," shows how the scarlet letter's interpretation by the townspeople (as well as Hawthorne) is constantly changing. Instead of being a badge of shame, some now believe it to be a miraculous token that keeps Hester safe. Again Chillingworth is found in his never-ending quest to gather herbs and roots from which he intends to make medicine.

    Full text of chapter 13 - "Another View of Hester"

  • In Chapter 15 - "Hester and Pearl," Hester confronts Chillingworth as he gathers herbs, which she suspects are no longer healing but of the poisonous, killing kind. Chillingworth is untrue to the helping creed of medical people.

    Full text of chapter 15 - "Hester and Pearl"

  • In Chapter 16 - "A Forest Walk," Hawthorne explores not the Indian but the setting which might be inhabited by Indians. This primeval forest where Hester chooses to meet Dimmesdale lessens Hester's and Dimmesdale's links to Puritanical judgment and condemnation. We see Dimmesdale returning from his missionary tasks of ministering to his Indian converts which include the Apostle Eliot. Pearl hearkens to the sunshine of the forest and never dwells in the gloom inhabited by Puritan children. The brook, like Pearl, is a current of life.

    Full text of chapter 16- "A Forest Walk"

  • In Chapter 17 - "The Pastor and his Parishioner," Hawthorne shows how Hester and Dimmesdale in the forest will be freer for a brief moment to taste a rekindling of their passion and to hope for freedom from Chillingworth's persecution. Hester exhorts Dimmesdale to find freedom in the forest of the Indian where he could be a missionary or overseas where he could be a scholar.

    Full text of chapter 17- "The Pastor and his Parishioner"

  • In Chapter 18 - "A Flood of Sunshine," Hawthorne examines the contrast between Hester and Dimmesdale as far as how each was prepared to deal with the sin they had committed. Hester, forced to wear the Scarlet A, was much freer and less tortured by Puritanical standards than Dimmesdale who had hidden his sin. Hawthorne compares Hester's freedom of mind and soul to the Indian who roams the woods freely. She lives in a moral wilderness which Hawthorne likens to forest. Dimmesdale moves in a barren desert. When Dimmesdale contemplates fleeing his moral prison, his soul becomes liberated. Again Hawthorne uses images of open sky and pure, easy breathing of clean air. Hester discards the Scarlet A and unbinds her long hair, and nature, unbound by human laws, shines sun on them and rejoices in their refound youth and beauty. Nature like the Indian is called HEATHEN. Finally Pearl is shown in the forest and although Hawthorne compares her to a nymph, he suggests that the forest is her mother forest, the animals are her friends, and she is in tune with all of nature, much like the Indian might have been in this ANCIENT world.

    Full text of chapter 18- "A Flood of Sunshine"

  • In Chapter 19 - "The Child at the Brook-side," much of the chapter which I am not including contains images of nature that mirror Pearl's personality and mood. This forest is home to her as it is home to Indians. When her anger is aroused because Hester has thrown away the A and freed her hair, Pearl's behavior is like the stereotyped behavior and shrieks of a wild Indian.

    Full text of chapter 19- "The Child at the Brook-side"

  • In Chapter 20 - "The Minister in a Maze," Dimmesdale realizes that he is not fit to find freedom in relief in the Indian wilderness but that he must flee to a more civilized, less rugged Europe. Curiously, Dimmesdale has found energy through his decision to join with Hester and flee his moral prison. The wilderness energizes him and he meets the challenge of the tough terrain.

    Full text of chapter 20- "The Minister in a Maze"

  • In Chapter 21 - "The New England Holiday," Pearl's dress appears to be part of nature. On this holiday celebrating the new governor taking office, many have gathered including Indians whose wildness is contrasted favorably with the undisciplined sailors, who disregard all rules and morals of behavior.

    Full text of chapter 21- "The New England Holiday"

  • In Chapter 22 - "The Procession," Hester cannot find in Dimmesdale's formal clergical self any remnants of the soul she loved in the forest where emotions are true. Mistress Hibbins questions her own seeing of Dimmesdale who looks so different than he did in the forest. Pearl with her wild nature attracts the attention and admiration of Indians in the crowd. The town on this day of celebration has been inundated by newcomers, including Indians, who are fascinated and cruelly curious about Hester's Scarlet A. The Indians imagine it to be a badge of honor.

    Full text of chapter 22- "The New England Holiday

  • In the final chapter 24 - "Conclusion," there is no direct mention of Indians. Once again, however, Hawthorne, shows us imagery relating to Chillingworth's meddling with the weeds that he harvested. Chillingworth took his healing instincts and understanding of healing herbs learned from the Indians and transformed them into evil jealousy and revenge that ruined his life and the life of Dimmesdale.

    Full text of chapter 24- "Conclusion"

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