Notes to Ch 7, The Governor's Hall
The Scarlet Letter

mansion of Governor Bellingham ...sl07.html#g01
The narrative at this point compresses the actual history a little, for artistic reasons, but does not stretch it too far. Our timeline following 1641 shows that Richard Bellingham was not actually governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1645--the date this chapter has to be set in, for Pearl to be age three. But he was governor before and after this time, which explains the reference to his stepping down. We don't know that Bellingham's Hall in Boston looked like Hawthorne's picture of it, but we show the Downing-Bradstreet house in Salem, which looks like it might have served in part as a model for the one in this book. The only existing house in Boston from this period is the so-called Paul Revere House, and that simple structure, even as restored, has little resemblance to the governor's majestic hall. As far as Bellingham as a person is concerned, he seems to represent in some ways the British beef-and-ale side of the New England emigrants that Hawthorne loved to contrast to the religiously severe original Puritans, especially those of the Plymouth Bay Colony--see for example, The May-Pole of Merry Mount, 1836. For some background of Governor Bellingham and Major William Hathorne, see Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 1.
the more rigid order of principles in religion and government ...sl07.html#g02
The idea here is that some anonymous, backward people are trying to take Pearl away from Hester under the general principle that she is unfit to be a mother because of her adultery. The "more rigid" principles they are using are today considered by many to be typical of the Puritans in Boston. It is true that Puritans were not tolerant--they moved to New England not to establish a free society, but one that followed their strict principles. Hawthorne needs to contrast that with the more democratic America of his day, or at least what he wanted it to be instead. Perhaps it is not so much the philosophical clash that is the point here--it might be the social battle between fundamentalists and what we would today in the U.S. call "liberals," i.e., liberals on social questions but not necessarily economic or religious ones. No doubt Hawthorne exaggerates the point, as for example when he later refers to the children not even being able to play freely. Later historians have tried to correct this misinterpretation of Puritanism, but their success varies. One point to consider is that Hawthorne himself wavered on his own viewpoint, as artistic truth was more important to a novel writer than was strict historical truth. But we can see here that even in this novel there is no completely necessary connection between the gossip of the neighbors and the large principles of religion and government--the neighbors are attempting to use those principles for their own ends, but they do not succeed. You must think that if Boston had been a pure democracy they might have succeeded. Combined with the reference in a moment to the matter of the pig, a reader might think that Hawthorne is promoting the idea of government and religious representatives having immediately direct relationships with the people. Note that it is Bellingham, the aristocrat, who is the instrument of the gossips, and he mistrusted the mob. Still another factor to consider here is that it is quite likely that it was the neighbor women who complained to Bellingham, and they were excluded from political power unless they could make a problem into some legal issue to prevail over the men, who generally would not be concerned with affairs such as bringing up a child.
dispute concerning the right of property in a pig ...sl07.html#g01
In 1642, a few years before the time of this chapter, a minor neighborhood spat turned into an historic political crisis in Boston. A Mrs. Sherman charged in court a Captain Keayne with stealing her pig. Keayne had been earlier fined for charging too much money for imported goods (Hawthorne would have read all this in Snow's History of Boston). The elected members of the legislature of the time, the Deputies of the General Court, supported the woman, but Governor Bellingham and the appointed members, called Assistants, took Keayne's side. The result was that in 1644 the Assistants formed a Senate as higher legislative body, and the lower Deputies of the General Court became independent, and so two legislative bodies ruled. The governor was afraid of the subversive, democratic powers, as noted in Winthop's Journal at the time. Hawthorne believed that all authority should reside in the people and through them the elected representatives. Even this simple little reference here is significant to reveal Hawthorne's underlying themes in the book. (The Plymouth Bay Colony started with the Mayflower Compact, but really legal authority in New England at the time stemmed ultimately from the King of England. Until the Revolution, there was constant argument between the democrats and the aristocrats, revolving around the Charter or just what local authority meant.)
the scarlet letter endowed with life ...sl07.html#g04
Pearl is now a few years older in this chapter, old enough to run and talk, and possibly to start learning about religion. In describing Pearl, Hawthorne "embroiders" the facts with a lot of fancy. She is not only directly compared to the scarlet letter (another product of Hester's adultery) but starts to become an emblem or symbol in life, with the same qualities of indeterminacy of motive--is she good or bad, capable of reason or too impulsive, beautiful or evil, a denizen of the town or an intruder from the wilderness? In one sense Pearl (em>is the scarlet letter in life, in another she merely reflects that symbol. But Pearl as a living person has a life of her own separate from the scarlet letter and such signs. We see that one of Pearl's qualities is freedom--she is opposed to the rigid, determinate Puritan society around her. Yet is this true freedom, without balancing qualities such as the human capacity for love, guilt, and sorrow, and the power to do good on her own? Eventually the symbols prove hard to decipher and exceedingly ambiguous.
she resembled...the scarlet fever ...sl07.html#g07
Hawthorne here goes beyond "analogy" to actually identify Pearl and the scarlet letter. This is important for the story, as this sort of allegory carries a lot of the plot. But it is hard to understand from our perspective how the identity should work. We can believe that Pearl would be a spoiled, impulsive, nagging child--lacking a father, she might try to control her mother, and feels otherwise isolated from society. Most parents would not today attribute anything evil to such behavior. But in Puritan days perhaps there was more superstition. Everyday events such as the scarlet fever might have been blamed on the devil, disease set upon the populace because of their sins, and by means of the devil's fiends living among the people themselves--such as, perhaps here, Pearl. (Scarlet fever is a streptococcal infection that causes a red rash--nowadays it is rare and is controlled by antibiotics--in Puritan days and even in Hawthorne's days it was much more feared.) Some people thought it might be possible to discover such witches by means of marks or odd personal appearance. Since Pearl was a small child, she would not be put to death, but might need special religious instruction and attention. By her treatment of Pearl, her loving attention and making her into someone special, Hester is marking Pearl out as different from the rest of society, and so exposing her to its fears and criticism.
specimens still extant in the streets of our elder towns ...sl07.html#g08
See our earlier reference to Governor Bellingham" Hall. It is possible that a couple of other houses resembling this depiction were still standing in Salem or Boston in 1850, but they no longer do. Hawthorne had special affection for old houses and used them in some of his books as romantic locales.
a seven-years' slave ...sl07.html#g01
See our page on bond-servants in colonial America. There were real slaves in New England, even at this time, but they were few compared with the bond-servants. Sometimes the slaves were brought with their masters from the West Indies. Some Irish rebels were sold as slaves to the sugar plantations there too. Not all slaves were of African origin--the Barbary Pirates in North Africa traded in white slaves as well. A slave was sold for life, while a bond-servant had a fixed term of service (such as the seven years here); a serf worked for a master as part of feudal obligations, but was otherwise free. Laws were subsequently passed to free slaves and serfs, but they were not always given the economic power to exercise their freedom. Slavery continues in places such as Sudan, in spite of universal declarations of human rights, and bond-servants have been turned into de facto slaves in places such as Pakistan, or as part of illegal immigration to the United States today. Sophia Peabody before she married Hawthorne stayed in Cuba and saw real slavery firsthand. Politically, Hawthorne before and even during the Civil War was not in favor of slavery but preferred maintaining the Union by compromise rather than by force (almost all his neighbors and relatives were strong abolitionists). Hawthorne would also have read that some bond-servants had been treated as badly as any slaves. But do not read too much into this reference--it is a piece of "local color" to give authenticity, and a reference to slavery at the time would not cause bad feeling as today.
the glittering symbol in her bosom ...sl07.html#g14
The servant, being a newcomer from England, misreads the symbol of the scarlet letter, believing it to be a mark of high rank. This is a positive interpretation, but also goes to show that every reader of the letter has his own interpretation, perhaps just as good as any other, perhaps not.
Chronicles of England ...sl07.html#g15
Probably Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, by Raphael Holinshed, 1577, a popular book in this time; it was used by Shakespeare.
on the centre-table, to be turned over by the casual guest ...sl07.html#g15
Books in Puritan days were very expensive, as they were almost handmade and imported from overseas. They were treated therefore with great care and probably would not have been laid out in a corner for the casual reader to peruse. Either this is a case of conspicuous consumption on Bellingham's part, or an anachronism on Hawthorne's part. In Victorian days, by 1850, books were cheaply printed and literacy was common enough for the ordinary housewife to show off by laying out the book she "happened" to be reading.
in the same taste...Elizabethan age ...sl07.html#g15
Bellingham was a Puritan political leader, but an aristocrat--his home's decor reflected more the upper-class large homes of Elizabethan gentry in England, than the simpler fashion of the lower-class Puritans who came from England first. (In spite of that, visitors to museums are generally surprised by the high workmanship and skill reflected by the surviving Puritan furniture--it was heavily decorated--and it was not until the Shakers that plainer furniture, being mass-produced but beautiful and functional, became more common.) This chapter also illustrates Hawthorne's continuing interest in the visual and pictorial arts--observe the portraits on the wall, for example--Hawthorne in his writings always seems to be a small boy looking for his father among them.
a large pewter tankard...draught of ale ...sl07.html#g15
In order to understand this reference you have to realize a little American history. In Puritan times few people drank water. Beer (ale) was the ordinary drink once children were weaned. Water might be unsafe to drink, since there was no good purification method. Hawthorne knew this fact and referred to it many times. Wine was not produced in America until much later. Distilled spirits became popular by Revolutionary times, as it was a practical way to process and transport corn. As a consequence, alcoholism increased greatly--by 1840 it was more severe than in any other time in American history. In reaction, many people organized against taverns and drinking alcohol of any kind--Methodists and temperance societies became powerful enough to change laws and restrict drinking, and alcohol consumption by 1850 dropped dramatically. Hawthorne's own feelings about drinking seem to be fairly liberal--he approved neither of the extreme temperance activists (he drank a little himself, but not to excess) nor the activists against tavern licensing (he noted the effects of alcoholism on people around him). However, in the context of this book in 1850, Hawthorne's readers might be a little disturbed by any reference that seemed to be approving of alcohol, even if it was historically accurate. (Mrs. Hawthorne seems to have been responsible for removing a section of the later novel, The Blithedale Romance, that described the inside of a bar.) However, Hester and Pearl would certainly not have had the reaction of the 1850 readers to observing some ale at the bottom of the tankard.
cuirass, gorget, greaves, gauntlets, sword, helmet, breastplate ...sl07.html#g17
The helmet protects the head. A gorget protects the neck. A gauntlet protects the hand. A cuirass is a piece of armor extending from neck to waist, often just the breastplate for the front; it used to be made of leather but by this time was metal. Greaves protect the legs below the knees. The sword would be used to fight in close combat and thus not too long, but strong enough to cut armor. The Indians did not have any armor--all this armor would have made fighters very clumsy--and all this armor was supposed to fend off Indian arrows, but did not always do the job. (Cortes found when invading Mexico that arrows could easily penetrate metal, so he then adopted the cotton padding armor of the Aztecs.) Nevertheless, it was as important for display as for function--the sight of gleaming armor was supposed to scare away the enemy. We see that Pearl here "reads" the armor in a naive way, not realizing its role in enforcing society's rules, against the wild Indians and potentially against wild Pearl. At this time there were few muskets in New England, and they were not very accurate. Cross-bows and pikes were used by lower-class soldiers.
Pequod war ...sl07.html#g17
The 1637 war of extermination against a local Native American tribe.
Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch ...sl07.html#g17
All English authorities on the law at this period.
this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented ...sl07.html#g20
Mirrors in Puritan times were generally small, expensive, and not very good (and the Puritan mirrors that Hawthorne might have seen would have been quite bad). There was of course much superstition about mirrors because of their seemingly magical power, perhaps to capture the soul of the looker. Here the mirror of the armor serves to bring out more of the symbolic nature of Pearl and the scarlet letter, causing us to question the empiric presentation by our senses. This also promotes the idea of greater freedom in interpreting what would otherwise be determinate facts. Is it Pearl or an imp? At first we understand that Hester is thinking all this, but perhaps it is just that all we readers are led to relaxing our guard and freely associating by the text.
flowers there ...sl07.html#g20
We do not know whether Bellingham indeed had such a formal garden--Hawthorne is a bit ambiguous as usual here. No doubt in early years it would be usual for most homes to have a vegetable garden, even in downtown Boston. An ornamental garden would be rather conspicuous consumption (in which case Hawthorne might be leading us to a sense of awe and power invested in Bellingham, or just an exaggeration of the aristocratic tendency against democracy). The grass if close-cropped would have to be cut by hand by a servant, not by sheep, given the proximity of the vegetables. Hawthorne before writing this book tended a vegetable garden for a few years at the Old Manse in Concord (it was planted for him as a wedding present by Thoreau). He describes that period as like that of Adam and Eve--and we have seen other references in this book to the Garden of Eden, the source of original sin, and from which Hester has been cast out. Perhaps we are led to see a contrast between the foolish formal garden of Bellingham and the practical vegetable garden of others, but if so then the analogy of Boston's society to the Garden of Eden is lost.
Reverend Mr. Blackstone ...sl07.html#g22
Indeed he is supposed to be the first settler, in the area of the new State House in Boston, and legend does say that he used to ride a bull. He did not get along with the Puritans, who frowned on eccentrics such as Blackstone, so they bought him out and he moved to Rhode Island. It is not known if he left any apple trees, but Hawthorne's uncle was a well-regarded pomologist, or apple tree expert, and Hawthorne had helped him write a book on the subject, so we should take his word for it.
began to cry for a red rose ...sl07.html#g23
The author misses no occasion to remind us of this symbol, which serves many purposes--among them, it stands for love, and it reminds us of the Garden of Eden and the red apple (or tomato, as you prefer), and it is of course the same color as the famous flaming letter. It carries on the reference to Blackstone--if this is like the Garden of Eden, it would not be surprising to see people riding on strange animals. And in a moment Hester hears voices, just as the wind passing over the Garden of Eden. Are they going to be expelled?

Summary. From here until the end of the book we expect you to write your own summaries, following the models of preceding chapters. E-mail to your summary (after reading the chapter carefully). You will get in return e-mail similar summaries made by others, which you may then compare with your own to see if you have understood the chapter. Use "Ch. 7 SL Summary" as the Subject: line.


Suggested MLA citations to this web page, HTML code and text.
Use as in ?Help? page citation guide.

Eldred, Eric. <cite>Notes to Ch. 7, The Scarlet Letter.</cite> <br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;1999. 23 Sep. 1999. <br />
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &lt;<a href=""></a>&gt;

(<a href="">Eldred</a>)

Eldred, Eric. Notes to Ch. 7, The Scarlet Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.


Please send your own contributions or corrections:
Last updated: Fri Sep 24 21:51:29 EDT 1999
©Copyright 1999 Eric Eldred - see license
From Eldritch Press's Nathaniel Hawthorne Home Page -