The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne's "Witch-Baby" in The Scarlet Letter

A few moments before Reverend Dimmsdale professes his sin to the crowd of onlookers, Hester's hopes of escape are dashed by the knowledge that Roger Chillingworth also booked a passage on the departing shipa ship that she prayed would give her and her beloved freedom from the curse of the Scarlet Letter. Little Pearl, however, relays the message to her mother that her trip has been spoilt by the addition of the evil Chillingworth. A well-meaning sailor tells Pearl, "So let thy mother take no thought, save for herself and thee. Wilt thou tell her this, thou witch-baby?" (224), implying that an additional passenger will be aboard the ship come departure. Hester, paling after hearing the news, watches her utopian plans fall to ruins as the minister breathes his last breath and she is once again left alone with Pearl, without escape from her bondage. The term "witch-baby," though never repeated explicitly in other areas of The Scarlet Letter, demonstrates Hawthorne's fascination with the language of witchery and its association with a child of the netherworld, Pearl.

Before the sailor's intriguing comment to the "witch-baby," Pearl is accosted by the strange Mistress Hibbins who asks,...

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