Hawthorne in Salem Search Hawthorne in Salem

Facebook Page

In Chapter 16 - "A Forest Walk,"

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.

(from Notes: the Apostle Eliot; courtesy of Eldritch Press Web text of The Scarlet Letter )

"The Rev. John Eliot was preaching to Native Americans in Dorchester, where he lived just outside Boston, and in Nonantum, in today's Newton, where in The Blithedale Romance he is referred to several times by Hawthorne. Hawthorne also wrote a children's story about Eliot in Grandfather's Chair. Hawthorne approved highly of his kind treatment of the Indians, and Eliot did write a Bible in their language even though none lived to read it later. Most of the "praying Indians" he converted were rounded up in 1676 during King Philip's War and died in camps on Deer Island,Boston."

(from Notes: imaged not amiss the moral wilderness; courtesy of Eldritch Press Web text of The Scarlet Letter )

"In other words, there was a similarity between the pagan wilderness, which was wild and without moral rules, and the life of isolation that Hester had been living, where she had to make up rules of her own, perhaps the same Christian ones as the old ones, but in any case her own, not those of someone else. Not only was Hester without a husband, but her child was without a father, and both seem to have escaped the close governance of church and school that Governor Bellingham and Reverend Wilson wished for them. Despite this similarity, Hester and Pearl and most Puritans would be superstitiously afraid of the forest."

Excerpts from Chapter 16- "A Forest Walk"

  1. But, partly that she dreaded the secret or undisguised interference of old Roger Chillingworth, and partly that her conscious heart imparted suspicion where none could have been felt, and partly that both the minister and she would need the whole wide world to breathe in, while they talked together,--for all these reasons, Hester never thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy than beneath the open sky.

    At last, while attending in a sick-chamber, whither the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to make a prayer, she learnt that he had gone, the day before, to visit the Apostle Eliot, among his Indian converts. He would probably return, by a certain hour, in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, therefore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl,--who was necessarily the companion of all her mother's expeditions, however inconvenient her presence,--and set forth.

    The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from the peninsula to the mainland, was no other than a footpath. It straggled onward into the mystery of the primeval forest. This hemmed it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, to Hester's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. The day was chill and sombre. Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting cheerfulness was always at the farther extremity of some long vista through the forest. The sportive sunlight--feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day and scene--withdrew itself as they came nigh, and left the spots where it had danced the drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright.

  2. As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished; or, to judge from the bright expression that was dancing on Pearl's features, her mother could have fancied that the child had absorbed it into herself, and would give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There was no other attribute that so much impressed her with a sense of new and untransmitted vigor in Pearl's nature, as this never-failing vivacity of spirits; she had not the disease of sadness, which almost all children, in these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this too was a disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy with which Hester had fought against her sorrows, before Pearl's birth. It was certainly a doubtful charm, imparting a hard, metallic lustre to the child's character. She wanted-what some people want throughout life-a grief that should deeply touch her, and thus humanize and make her capable of sympathy. But there was time enough yet for little Pearl!

  3. Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger along the forest-track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss; which, at some epoch of the preceding century, had been a gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. It was a little dell where they had seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook flowing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. The trees impending over it had flung down great branches, from time to time, which choked up the current, and compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points; while, in its swifter and livelier passages, there appeared a channel-way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the eyes follow along the course of the stream, they could catch the reflected light from its water, at some short distance within the forest, but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush, and here and there a huge rock, covered over with gray lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.

  4. But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest-trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, in as much as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom. But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11457/

About US Privacy Policy Copyright Credits Site Map Site Help