The Scarlet Letter

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Scarlet Letter: Foreshadowing 5 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Foreshadowing
Explanation and Analysis—Priestly Celibacy:

In Chapter 9, the narrator comments that the townspeople are relieved when Chillingworth moves in with Dimmesdale because the pastor refuses to marry anyone who could help take care of him. This refusal foreshadows the fact that Dimmesdale is fated to end up with Hester in the end.

The townspeople chalk up Dimmesdale's behavior to the idea that he takes "priestly celibacy" to be one of his duties as a church leader, even though that is the policy of the Catholic Church and not Puritanism. The idea among the public that Dimmesdale is too chaste reinforces, for the reader and Dimmesdale, his private reality: Dimmesdale refuses to marry anyone not because he is celibate, but because he is consumed by guilt over his adultery with Hester. In his heart, he is already attached to a woman. The fact that Chillingworth takes the place of a wife in Dimmesdale's household further underscores this attachment by bringing Dimmesdale metaphorically into a three-person marriage with Hester and Chillingworth. The novel ends with Hester and Dimmesdale in a shared grave, even though they never had the chance to marry while they were alive. The quasi-marriage between Dimmesdale and Chillingworth not only keeps Dimmesdale from forgetting about his sin, but also serves as a sign that Dimmesdale will be part of Chillingworth and Hester's union for eternity.

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—He Will Be Known!:

In Chapter 3, a "stranger" in the crowd (really this is Chillingworth, Hester's estranged husband) remarks that he approves of Hester's punishment. He says that he believes Pearl's father should be standing beside Hester, and his remarks foreshadow his obsession with torturing and exposing Dimmesdale:

“A wise sentence!” remarked the stranger, gravely bowing his head. “Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not, at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known!—he will be known!—he will be known!”

Those around Chillingworth may easily interpret his repeated "he will be known!" as faith that the truth will eventually come out. In reality, as the events of the novel will demonstrate, he seems to be swearing that Dimmesdale will be known if it is the last thing Chillingworth accomplishes. Being "known" does not just mean that Dimmesdale's identity will be revealed. Indeed, Chillingworth comes to "know" Dimmesdale so intimately that he can inflict psychological torture on him. The repetition almost makes it sound as though Chillingworth is casting a spell. The narrator has already introduced him as "a white man, clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume." In the context in which Hawthorne was writing, Chillingworth's association with Indigenous people and their medicine opens the possibility that he has some kind of dark mystical power. The novel does not have an outright stance on whether magic is real, but the possibility hovers over everything. This moment foreshadows not only Chillingworth's relationship to Dimmesdale, but also the prevalence of the occult as a force that many of the characters—if not the narrator—believe in wholeheartedly.

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Explanation and Analysis—Pearl's Recognition:

Pearl's eerie recognition of her parents and their adultery is a motif in the novel, even when Pearl is an infant. In Chapter 3, when Hester first stands with Pearl on the scaffold, Pearl is strangely responsive to Dimmesdale's sermon:

Even the poor baby, at Hester's bosom, was affected by the same influence; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur.

Pearl is too young to understand what Dimmesdale is saying about Hester's moral imperative to reveal the baby's father. The townspeople, who ascribe to Puritan doctrine, are understandably affected by Dimmesdale's words, but a baby who cannot speak yet and does not have a developed belief system should not be "affected by the same influence." Close reading of the passage reveals that the narrator might not be entirely earnest about this statement. The line, "for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale [...]" suggests that Pearl can be observed looking at and reaching toward the pastor, and that the preceding claim (that she is affected by the sermon) is a deduction based on that observation. The narrator may in fact be summarizing a false deduction onlookers are making about why Pearl is behaving strangely.

As the novel continues, it becomes clearer that Pearl is not interested in Dimmesdale's words so much as Dimmesdale himself. In Chapter 8, she surprises her mother by behaving especially tenderly toward Dimmesdale for no apparent reason:

Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf, stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked herself,—“Is that my Pearl?”

Pearl's response to Dimmesdale here and while she and Hester are on the scaffold foreshadows their connection, which is soon revealed to the reader and will eventually be revealed to the entire town. The title of Chapter 3 is "The Recognition," and it ostensibly refers to Hester's recognition of Chillingworth, her husband. But the reader might also take it to refer to Pearl's recognition of Dimmesdale.

Pearl also has an impossible understanding of the scarlet letter for a child who is under seven for almost the entire novel. In Chapter 6, her recognition of its significance terrifies Hester:

From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's safety; not a moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, and odd expression of the eyes.

Even if Pearl does not verbalize exactly what the scarlet letter means, she nonetheless seems to know that it means something. Her recognition is "like the stroke of a sudden death" to Hester. The novel elsewhere compares death to shame within the Puritan context. Pearl's gaze perhaps feels like death to Hester because Hester is unable to hide the mark of her shame even from her young daughter.

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Chapter 6
Explanation and Analysis—Pearl's Recognition:

Pearl's eerie recognition of her parents and their adultery is a motif in the novel, even when Pearl is an infant. In Chapter 3, when Hester first stands with Pearl on the scaffold, Pearl is strangely responsive to Dimmesdale's sermon:

Even the poor baby, at Hester's bosom, was affected by the same influence; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur.

Pearl is too young to understand what Dimmesdale is saying about Hester's moral imperative to reveal the baby's father. The townspeople, who ascribe to Puritan doctrine, are understandably affected by Dimmesdale's words, but a baby who cannot speak yet and does not have a developed belief system should not be "affected by the same influence." Close reading of the passage reveals that the narrator might not be entirely earnest about this statement. The line, "for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale [...]" suggests that Pearl can be observed looking at and reaching toward the pastor, and that the preceding claim (that she is affected by the sermon) is a deduction based on that observation. The narrator may in fact be summarizing a false deduction onlookers are making about why Pearl is behaving strangely.

As the novel continues, it becomes clearer that Pearl is not interested in Dimmesdale's words so much as Dimmesdale himself. In Chapter 8, she surprises her mother by behaving especially tenderly toward Dimmesdale for no apparent reason:

Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf, stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked herself,—“Is that my Pearl?”

Pearl's response to Dimmesdale here and while she and Hester are on the scaffold foreshadows their connection, which is soon revealed to the reader and will eventually be revealed to the entire town. The title of Chapter 3 is "The Recognition," and it ostensibly refers to Hester's recognition of Chillingworth, her husband. But the reader might also take it to refer to Pearl's recognition of Dimmesdale.

Pearl also has an impossible understanding of the scarlet letter for a child who is under seven for almost the entire novel. In Chapter 6, her recognition of its significance terrifies Hester:

From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's safety; not a moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, and odd expression of the eyes.

Even if Pearl does not verbalize exactly what the scarlet letter means, she nonetheless seems to know that it means something. Her recognition is "like the stroke of a sudden death" to Hester. The novel elsewhere compares death to shame within the Puritan context. Pearl's gaze perhaps feels like death to Hester because Hester is unable to hide the mark of her shame even from her young daughter.

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Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Pearl's Recognition:

Pearl's eerie recognition of her parents and their adultery is a motif in the novel, even when Pearl is an infant. In Chapter 3, when Hester first stands with Pearl on the scaffold, Pearl is strangely responsive to Dimmesdale's sermon:

Even the poor baby, at Hester's bosom, was affected by the same influence; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmur.

Pearl is too young to understand what Dimmesdale is saying about Hester's moral imperative to reveal the baby's father. The townspeople, who ascribe to Puritan doctrine, are understandably affected by Dimmesdale's words, but a baby who cannot speak yet and does not have a developed belief system should not be "affected by the same influence." Close reading of the passage reveals that the narrator might not be entirely earnest about this statement. The line, "for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale [...]" suggests that Pearl can be observed looking at and reaching toward the pastor, and that the preceding claim (that she is affected by the sermon) is a deduction based on that observation. The narrator may in fact be summarizing a false deduction onlookers are making about why Pearl is behaving strangely.

As the novel continues, it becomes clearer that Pearl is not interested in Dimmesdale's words so much as Dimmesdale himself. In Chapter 8, she surprises her mother by behaving especially tenderly toward Dimmesdale for no apparent reason:

Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf, stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked herself,—“Is that my Pearl?”

Pearl's response to Dimmesdale here and while she and Hester are on the scaffold foreshadows their connection, which is soon revealed to the reader and will eventually be revealed to the entire town. The title of Chapter 3 is "The Recognition," and it ostensibly refers to Hester's recognition of Chillingworth, her husband. But the reader might also take it to refer to Pearl's recognition of Dimmesdale.

Pearl also has an impossible understanding of the scarlet letter for a child who is under seven for almost the entire novel. In Chapter 6, her recognition of its significance terrifies Hester:

From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's safety; not a moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, and odd expression of the eyes.

Even if Pearl does not verbalize exactly what the scarlet letter means, she nonetheless seems to know that it means something. Her recognition is "like the stroke of a sudden death" to Hester. The novel elsewhere compares death to shame within the Puritan context. Pearl's gaze perhaps feels like death to Hester because Hester is unable to hide the mark of her shame even from her young daughter.

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Explanation and Analysis—Dimmesdale's Health:

Dimmesdale's declining health foreshadows his eventual death from a guilty conscience. One example of this foreshadowing occurs in a moment of dramatic irony in Chapter 8, when the narrator describes the townspeople's reaction to Chillingworth's interest in Dimmesdale:

It was understood that this learned man was the physician as well as friend of the young minister, whose health had severely suffered, of late, by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the pastoral relation.

Everyone assumes that the doctor takes an interest in the pastor because Dimmesdale's health is suffering. There is dramatic irony in this assumption because it is true, but not for the reasons the townspeople believe. Chillingworth is interested in Dimmesdale because his failing health signals to the doctor that he is hiding something. Chillingworth cozies up to the ailing man because he believes him to be Pearl's father. The fact that Dimmesdale's body shows the signs of his guilty conscience hints at the fact that in the end, a guilty conscience may just be able to destroy him.

Additionally significant to both the dramatic irony and the foreshadowing here is the townspeople's assumption that Dimmesdale's health is suffering because he is an overcommitted minister. They are not technically wrong that Dimmesdale's job is causing him to suffer. But his suffering isn't due to the fact that the job is too much of an administrative burden. Rather, his "labors and duties" cause him to sicken and eventually die because he cannot perform them in good conscience while he is hiding is own sinfulness. Neither Chillingworth nor the townspeople are entirely right or entirely wrong about the cause of Dimmesdale's ailment. His health problems and eventual death are the result of combined factors: he could have survived either his adultery with Hester or his job as a minister, but he can't deal with the ongoing tension between his public virtue and private sin.

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Chapter 16
Explanation and Analysis—Inconsolable Brook:

Hester and Pearl go into the forest in Chapter 16, and Pearl is disturbed by the fact that the brook seems to be crying rather than laughing. The brook's personification as an inconsolable being foreshadows the difficult meeting Hester is about to have with Dimmesdale:

But the little stream would not be comforted, and still kept telling its unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had happened—or making a prophetic lamentation about something that was yet to happen—within the verge of the dismal forest.

Pearl has a history of personifying inanimate objects in nature, and she seeks a playmate in the brook. She wants it to make happy sounds; after all, Hester has told her to stay where she can hear the brook "babbling." In this instance, the little stream resists the kind of personification Pearl wants to project onto it. Rather than babbling happily, it seems to blubber unceasingly about a secret, dark prophecy of what is to come in the forest. Hester is about to reveal to Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her estranged husband, and she does not know how he will react. Of course, the brook is just a brook and is likely making some version of the noise it always makes. The figure of speech in this passage helps emphasize that the forest is a mysterious and sometimes dangerous place where secrets are kept. It also gives a sense of the emotional atmosphere. Pearl, whose imagination is behind much of the personification in the novel, seems to sense the tension her mother is feeling about her meeting with Dimmesdale. Her frustration that she can't do anything about it manifests as frustration that the brook won't be cheered up.

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