Notes to Ch 23, The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter

words of flame ...sl23.html#g01
See our earlier notes about Pentecost. There are several ironies here. Pentecost was supposed to make the recipients of the Holy Ghost's grace be able to speak in all the languages of the earth, so as to be understood by everyone. However, we hear only the sound of the voice, not the words; we can only understand it by its emotional tone, not by the Puritan logic and significance of the text. We cannot read the text itself for ourselves--we can only guess at its significance by how it affects other readers. Next, we know the speaker tells the truth, and the pathos is real, the sorrow a living emotion, yet we know he is a hypocrite because he has not told the full story of his sin--and the listeners are hypocrites for believing what they wish, rather than listening to the true significance of his message. We feel ashamed that Boston might have been built on such sand. Then, we realize that these words of flame are supposed to move and provoke the audience to repentance and prayer for God's grace, and to take to heart the heavy responsibility of supporting the growth of the new democracy and religious mission, in a time of early capitalism and materialism--just as Hawthorne wished to stir up his audience. The audience applauds, but it does not understand, so it cannot be moved and provoked, no matter how much Dimmesdale preaches--it can only respond with the inarticulate shout of the crowd. It seems they are self-satisfied with being the elect, their fate is predestined and will be a fine one.
The Election Day sermon is Dimmesdale's greatest sermon, but actions will have to speak louder than words. He will have to serve as a model, a martyr--a great irony that one of their greatest men must die and leave them before he is appreciated--even Chillingworth tries to hold him back, compounding the irony. But even after his final act, is he ever really understood?
it was his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny ...sl23.html#g02
This idea of destiny behind the new settlements lived on to the 1800s of Hawthorne, with the concept of "manifest destiny" justifying an expansionism to the West and then colonialism around the world.
Dimmesdale would have had no reason to give ruinous prophecies to his audience--he did not blame them nor was bitter as Hester had come to realize she might be. He is bringing closure to his life and can only forecast a great future for everyone--provided we are able to know ourselves and arrive at a better, balanced, realistic, human, and God-fearing place in our lives.
The surviving Election Day sermons by other preachers of his time do not seem to exhibit the high oratory that Hawthorne would have been familiar with, having heard speakers such as Daniel Webster.
the bar of Eternal Justice ...sl23.html#g24
The bar is the court, the place where the accused stand before the judge. In this case, it would be the Last Judgment, but here Dimmesdale is dying, so he will plead guilty before God, who will judge him correspondingly in the last time.
round about ...sl23.html#g25
In the last chapter this was spelled as one word. Both the single word and the two separate words are used in Hawthorne's writings (but not hyphenated, except in another usage). We have not regularized spelling here.
he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast ...sl23.html#g28
The band is the collar--we assume that the mark, whatever it was, was on his chest, beneath his shirt. And what was the mark? How did it get there? Who did it? What did it all mean?
concentrated ...sl23.html#g28
Our copy-text has "concentrated," but the Library of America text (based on the Centenary Edition) has "concentred." We found two instances elsewhere of this latter usage, and many of the former.

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