Chapter 16 – A Forest Walk
It is known that Dimmesdale takes frequent walks along the shoreline and
through the woods. Hester is determined to intercept him on one of these walks and warn him about Chillingworth.
Hester and Pearl walk along a narrow path through the dense woods and the
sun flickers through the thick foliage. Pearl makes the remark that the sunshine is running away from Hester because of the A that she wears.
In a gesture of total freedom and with no letter inhibiting her, Pearl runs and dances about trying to catch the patches of light. Pearl asks Hester about the black man and whether she has met him. Hester confesses that once she met the black man and that the scarlet letter she wears is his mark.
Just then Dimmesdale comes upon them. He looks weak and haggard, and
his face indicates that he has lost the desire to live. He holds his hand over his heart.
Hawthorne uses this Chapter as an introduction for the confession that will
follow in Chapter 17.
The chilly gloom of the forest symbolizes Hester’s state of mind and mood.
The reader should take time in studying this Chapter, as it is full of
symbolism. The narrow footpath that the pair takes through the dense forest suggests the fine line of morality and goodness surrounded on both sides by the evil and sinful world.
Hester explains that the mark she wears belongs to the black man, or the
devil. It is a sign of her sin, and just then, Dimmesdale comes on the scene, being the one who has marked Hester so.
The view that the forest is evil is only true in the eyes of the Puritan
society. It is more accurate to regard the wood as the free, uninhibited, outside world. It is a wilderness, untamed, which the Puritans hate. They prefer order and discipline.
Hawthorne spends time in this and the next Chapter, connecting Pearl with
nature and the wilderness around them. When Pearl crosses the brook, she is crossing over from the Puritan world to the free, uninhibited, outside world.