Chapter 8 – The Elf-child and the Minister
Hester meets with the Governor, the Reverend Wilson, Dimmesdale, and Roger
Chillingworth is now Dimmesdale’s constant companion and personal physician. The Governor is shocked at Pearl’s immodest dress, and he asks the Reverend Wilson to test Pearl’s knowledge of the catechism. Pearl, being mischievous, feigns ignorance and responds to the question “Who made thee?” by saying that she was plucked off a rosebush that grew by the prison door.
Eventually Dimmesdale persuades the Governor that Hester should be allowed
to keep Pearl whom God has given to her as a companion, but also as a reminder of her sin.
Chillingworth is not slow to observe Dimmesdale’s protection of Hester and
Pearl by remarking “You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness”.
Pearl involuntarily caresses Dimmesdale’s hand, and he kisses her on the
On leaving the mansion, Hester is approached by the Governor’s sister,
Mistress Hibbins. She invites Hester to come at midnight to a meeting in the forest, but Hester refuses the invitation. If she had lost Pearl she would willingly have signed on with the devil.
It is the first time that the four main characters are together since the
first scaffold scene. They represent the Government, the Puritans, the world of darkness, and the world of nature and freedom. There are subtle hints concerning the identity of Pearl’s father, but only
the reader and Chillingworth are aware of this.
Hester shows her inner strength by eloquently pleading her case, which is
based on the fact that she will teach her daughter what the badge of shame stands for, and this will provide Pearl with wisdom to withstand temptation.
Hawthorne emphasizes that Pearl is to be considered as a passionate product
of nature symbolized by her belief that she came from a wild rose bush that grew outside the prison, the symbol of incarceration.
Dimmesdale also shows signs that his health is failing due to his concealed
guilt, but he is able to support Hester in her plea to keep Pearl. He describes Pearl as “child of its father’s guilt and its mother’s shame”.
We are never far away from the forces of darkness and the supernatural, and
Hawthorne again brings this to the fore in the scene between Hester and Mistress Hibbins, who is later to be executed as a witch. She says, “Wilt thou go with us tonight?
There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the black man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.” Hawthorne wishes to emphasize that there is a strong undercurrent of evil in this society.