The Scarlet Letter Chapters 16-18 Summary

     Hester and Pearl are walking in the woods on a cloudy, dark day. Pearl is playing with sun beams and notices that whenever Hester comes near the light, it disappears, so she believes the cause of it to be Hester's scarlet letter. Hester admires her daughter, so full of life and resistant to common illnesses, that she looks like an unearthly creature.

     After a while, Hester suggests to take a rest and Pearl agrees to rest only if her mother tells her a story about the Black Man who wanders around the wood carrying a thick book, offering it to anyone he encounters. She goes on with the story, telling that once they sign their name in the book, the Black Man sets a mark on their bosoms. Hester is puzzled by this, wondering where did she hear about the Black Man, but does not wait long for an answer, as Pearl is willing to tell everything about it. She has heard the story while they were in the house of a dying man and wants to know if her mother has ever encountered the Black Man. Hester decides to tell her daughter that she has and that the scarlet letter is the sign of it.

     The conversation leads them deeper in the woods, where they rest near a brook. Suddenly, they hear a footsteps and Hester orders Pearl to go and play nearby. Pearl is curious to know whether the Black Man is approaching, but Hester assures her that it is the clergyman. Now that they can see the outline in the distant, Pearl notices him holding a hand on his chest, interpreting it as a sign of an encounter with the Black Man, who put a mark right where the clergyman now holds his hand. Hester is impatient to get rid of Pearl so that she can talk to Mr. Dimmesdale and reveal Roger's true identity to him. As he gets closer, Hester summons him. He is perplexed by the voice deep in the woods and soon recognizes her, asking whether she is alive. As a reply, she asks the same question to him and the narrator finds this highly symbolical, as if they doubt in their own existence, so they want to make sure they are not just spirits.

     Their conversation starts as any other, about the weather and storms, but soon in takes the wanted turn. Mr. Dimmesdale asks Hester if she has found her peace, but Hester replies asking the same question to him. He admits that he is in despair, so Hester tries to console him by saying that people respect him. This makes him even more miserable, as he believes that he is not worthy of such respect nor is he competent to preach, being a sinner himself, but Hester assures him that he has been repenting for so long that his sin is now forgiven. He disagrees, adding that he would feel much better if he had a friend, or an enemy, with whom he could share his secret. Hester finally has an opportunity to fulfill her mission and says that he has a friend- her, his accomplice in the sin, as well as he has an enemy, living with him under the same roof. Mr. Dimmesdale is shocked with the cognition, unable to forgive Hester for hiding the secret from him and not warning him sooner about Roger. Hester frantically begs for his forgiveness and he finally gives in. Now when the truth is revealed, another problem arises. Mr. Dimmesdale is unsure how to behave when around Roger and Hester advise him to leave Roger. However, Mr. Dimmesdale is so weak, physically as well as mentally and is afraid of the unknown. Hester assures him to stay strong, as he is not alone.

     Unlike Mr. Dimmesdale, Hester is strong and prepared for the new step in her life. Tired of social burden and of being an outcast, Hester unclasp the scarlet letter and throws it away. She immediately feels at ease and takes of the cap that confines her hair, letting long, shiny hair fall down her shoulders. Suddenly, she becomes a woman again- a smile on her face, a crimson flush on her cheeks and a radiant look turn her into a beauty she has always been. Suddenly, sun appears behind clouds illuminating the entire forest, as if the nature is being sympathetic with Hester and the clergyman. At that point, the mood of the scene changes- everything is bathing in sun, the conversational tone is rather optimistic than melancholic, even Pearl seems different, standing near the brook as a fairy, playing cheerfully with forest animals.

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