Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thoughts on Passage in Chapter 5 of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

While reading the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, one passage particularly stuck out to me:
"Vanity, it may be, chose to mortify itself, by putting on, for ceremonials of pomp and state, the garments that had been wrought by her sinful hands. Her needle-work was seen on the ruff of the Governor; military men wore it on their scarfs, and the minister on his band; it decked the baby's little cap; it was shut up, to be mildewed and moulder away, in the coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded that, in a single instance, her skill was called in aid to embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the ever relentless vigor with which society frowned upon her sin" (75).
This passage appears in chapter 5 where Hawthorne is describing Hester Prynne's sewing skills. Hawthorne points out at the end of this passage that Hester's community doesn't allow her to sew white veils for brides because they don't want her sin to taint the brides. Although, what Hawthorne doesn't mention directly is that everyone Hester sews for has some sort of negative energy about them, or associated with death, in a sense, even besides the dead people. Firstly, she sews for the Governor, who is seen wearing "a dark feather in his hat, a border of embroidery on his cloak, and a black velvet tunic beneath"(59). Despite the fact that the Governor seems to be wearing "Puritan" colors (dark, sullen colors), the details of this quote tell us that he is actually quite extravagant because he is wearing a feather, an embroidery, and a velvet tunic, quite opposite to the Puritan ideal. All of these materials above show that the Governor may be potentially corrupt because on the surface he seems to fit in with the society when in reality his clothes do not reflect what this society stands for. Another example of negativity is military men wearing scarves of her work. The military has a glorious surface of protecting the people, but underneath the surface is the dark reality of the slaughter and killing of war. Finally, the last example of the darkness associated with Hester's work is the baby, assumingly her baby Pearl. As we find out in the following chapter, Hester keeps noticing irregularities about Pearl; it is almost as if Pearl is the devil's spawn. Hawthorne ends the list saying that what she sews also goes into coffin, suggesting that the old Hester is already dead by spirit. The current her is just alive but not living, and she is living in a dead man's world.


  1. Great post! I love your insight on Hawthorne's use of colors and symbols, especially concerning the governor! I enjoy how you tie Hester's sewing to Pearl, as the townspeople seem to think that Pearl is Hester's darkest product. I wonder where else this theme of darkness will arise throughout the book, definitely keep with it!

  2. Nice quote! I totally agree with Maggie, you did an awesome job of going deeper and really showing the significance of all the descriptions of people Hester sews for. Also the connection between Hester's spirit and the coffin mentioned in the quote is very intriguing! I haven't thought about that at all, but it makes sense that Hester's spirit is dead and her body is just going through the motions; maybe Hawthorne will bring up this image again in the later chapters!!

  3. Great passage! I'm intrigued to hear more about what you think about the role of Hester's needlework in the novel--it's a topic I rarely see discussed in scholarship about the text. Might make a great paper topic!