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Arthur Schopenhauer

For such a widely read novel, The Scarlet Letter lacks some of the memorable quotes of similar works. However, the fact that it may not have quotes that are as familiar to the reader does not mean that it lacks quotes that are significant to the novel; instead, it simply suggests that the novel may be sufficiently fact-specific to prevent universal application of its passages.

Quotation One:"But the object that most drew my attention, in the mysterious package, was a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded…. It had been wrought, as was easy to perceive, with wonderful skill of needlework…. This rag of scarlet cloth,- for time and wear and a sacrilegious moth had reduced it to little other than a rag,- on careful examination, assumed the shape of a letter. It was the capital letter A. By an accurate measurement, each limb proved to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length. It had been intended, there could be no doubt, as an ornamental article of dress; but how it was to be worn, or what rank, honor, and dignity, in by-past times, were signified by it, was a riddle which… I saw little hope of solving."

This quotation appears in the Custom House introduction to the novel. The author is describing the manuscript and the letter he found in the Custom House, which presumably contained the story described in the novel. The in-depth description of the scarlet letter provides clues to the reader about the pivotal role it will play in the novel. Moreover, the fact that he describes the moth that destroyed the badge as sacrilegious helps demonstrate the important role that the “A” plays in the novel.

Quotation Two:“On one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him."

This quotation appears in chapter one and helps highlight the contrast between the bleak society established by the Puritans and the wild beauty of nature. Because Hawthorne uses the contrast between nature and society to help draw out and explain the relationship between Dimmesdale and Hester, this is a significant passage. It also foreshadows Pearl’s rejection of Puritan order, as she later describes herself as having been plucked from that same rosebush.

Quotation Three:“When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips."

This quote appears in chapter three. The man in question is Chillingworth, Hester’s missing husband. This foreshadows the secrecy he demands of her, which is largely responsible for the torment that Dimmesdale experiences throughout the novel.

Quotation Four:“‘Never!’ Replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at Mr. Wilson, but into the deep and troubled eyes of the younger clergyman. ‘It is too deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!’”

This occurs in chapter three. Reverends Wilson and Dimmesdale are trying to convince Hester to reveal the name of her lover and Pearl’s father. She refuses. What the reader does not know at this point is that Reverend Dimmesdale is the secret lover, so her protest is not only a refusal to conform to the societal pressure to name her husband, but also a promise to her lover to keep his identity secret and protect him.

Quotation Five:“The mother’s impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the untempered light of the intervening substance. Above all, the warfare of Hester’s spirit, at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl.”

This quotation occurs in chapter six and is the narrator commenting on Pearl’s nature. It is one of the first places where Pearls’ wildness is linked to the act of wild abandon that helped create her. Moreover, it is clear that the narrator believes that this is far more linked to Hester’s spirit than to Dimmesdale’s, as Dimmesdale is much more of a symbol of conformity than Hester.

Quotation Six:“After putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson’s questions, the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door.”

This passage occurs in chapter eight. It is Pearl’s response to questioning by Reverend Wilson about her catechism, and the anticipated response was that God had created her. This is a meaningful passage because it shows Pearl’s rejection of Puritan norms. However, it also reveals her vulnerability to the very norms she rejects. Her failure to recite the catechism gives Governor Bellingham and Reverend Wilson an excuse to remove her from her mother’s care, and prompts Hester to plead with Dimmesdale to intervene on their behalf.

Quotation Seven:“‘Speak thou for me!’ cried she. ‘Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest, – for thou hast sympathies which these men lack! – thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's rights, and how much the stronger they are, when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!’”

This quote also occurs in chapter eight and represents Hester’s plea to Dimmesdale that he intervene and help ensure that she be allowed to keep Pearl. Of course, she and Dimmesdale are aware that she is not simply speaking to him as her pastor. He knew her—not only her soul, but also her body. She appears to be appealing to him as a minister, but in reality is appealing to him as a lover. She reminds him that he is part of the reason that all she has in life in Pearl. She charges him to speak on her behalf. The speech contains no threats to reveal him, but one can see the undercurrent of desperation in her speech.

Quotation Eight:“Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl…. Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together!”

This occurs in chapter twelve. The speaker is Dimmesdale, who has gone out into the night and climbed up on the scaffold in shame. He asks them to join him so that he can join in the guilt for their sin. This is the second of three scaffold scenes and represents some progress for Dimmesdale. However, it occurs in darkness, with no witness except for Chillingworth, whom Pearl spots moments later.

Quotation Nine: “Many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength.”

This is spoken by the narrator in chapter thirteen and helps demonstrate how Hester was able to shift public perception of her. While she never found friends in Puritan society, she did help change perceptions of herself. In contrast, with his hidden guilt, Dimmesdale steadily declined throughout the course of the novel.

Quotation Ten: “‘I might have known it,’ murmured he. ‘I did know it!’ Was not the secret told me, in the natural recoil of my heart, at the first sight of him, and as often as I have seen him? Why did I not understand? O Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame! – the indelicacy! – the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this! I cannot forgive thee!”

This passage occurs in chapter seventeen. The speaker is Dimmesdale, and he is reacting to Hester’s revelation that Chillingworth is her husband. The passage reveals that Dimmesdale remains a weak man, blaming Hester for things that have befallen him, when he could have ended his own torment at any time by coming forward and acknowledging Pearl.

Quotation Eleven: “On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.”

Found in chapter twenty-four, this quotation is the inscription on the single headstone that marks Hester and Dimmesdale’s graves. It demonstrates that, though apart in life, they were able to be together in death.

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