The Scarlet Letter HTML version

13. Another View Of Hester
In her late singular interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne was shocked at the
condition to which she found the clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed absolutely
destroyed. His moral force was abased into more than childish weakness. It grovelled
helpless on the ground, even while his intellectual faculties retained their pristine
strength, or had perhaps acquired a morbid energy, which disease only could have given
them. With her knowledge of a train of circumstances hidden from all others, she could
readily infer that, besides the legitimate action of his own conscience, a terrible
machinery had been brought to bear, and was still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale's well-
being and repose. Knowing what this poor fallen man had once been, her whole soul was
moved by the shuddering terror with which he had appealed to her--the outcast woman--
for support against his instinctively discovered enemy. She decided, moreover, that he
had a right to her utmost aid. Little accustomed, in her long seclusion from society, to
measure her ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself, Hester saw--or
seemed to see--that there lay a responsibility upon her in reference to the clergyman,
which she owned to no other, nor to the whole world besides. The links that united her to
the rest of humankind--links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or whatever the material--had all
been broken. Here was the iron link of mutual crime, which neither he nor she could
break. Like all other ties, it brought along with it its obligations.
Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the same position in which we beheld her
during the earlier periods of her ignominy. Years had come and gone. Pearl was now
seven years old. Her mother, with the scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its fantastic
embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the townspeople. As is apt to be the case
when a person stands out in any prominence before the community, and, at the same
time, interferes neither with public nor individual interests and convenience, a species of
general regard had ultimately grown up in reference to Hester Prynne. It is to the credit of
human nature that, except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily
than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love,
unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of
hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne there was neither irritation nor irksomeness. She
never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage; she made
no claim upon it in requital for what she suffered; she did not weigh upon its sympathies.
Then, also, the blameless purity of her life during all these years in which she had been
set apart to infamy was reckoned largely in her favour. With nothing now to lose, in the
sight of mankind, and with no hope, and seemingly no wish, of gaining anything, it could
only be a genuine regard for virtue that had brought back the poor wanderer to its paths.
It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward even the humblest title to share
in the world's privileges--further than to breathe the common air and earn daily bread for
little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands--she was quick to acknowledge
her sisterhood with the race of man whenever benefits were to be conferred. None so
ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty, even though the
bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his