The Scarlet Letter

Why does Hester remove the Scarlett letter? Why doesn't pearl recognize her? Why does she react the way she does?

Chapter 17/18

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Chapter Eighteen: A Flood of Sunshine


Dimmesdale allows himself to be overcome by Hester's arguments for leaving, and he resolves to go with her. He is happy once he makes the decision to go, and he feels that a burden of guilt has been lifted from his shoulders. Hester, in a moment of passion, says, "Let us not look back." She then undoes the scarlet letter and tosses it from her, watching it land only a few feet from the stream which would have carried it away.

Hester tells Dimmesdale that he must get to know Pearl so that he can love her the way she does. She calls Pearl, who is standing in a ray of sunshine. The narrator then compares Pearl to a nymph and calls her a wild spirit. He tells that the animals were not afraid of her, and even a wolf allowed her to pat its head. Pearl has decorated herself with wild flowers, both in her hair and on her clothing. When she sees the minister she approaches slowly.


The image of the forest as the wild place where can passion can flow returns in this chapter. Thus Hawthorne writes about Hester, "She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness ... as vast ... as the untamed forest." Boston, trying to keep a civilized community over against the wild, remains bordered on three sides by the forest, making the wild and its amorality a constant threat to the Puritan society. The townspeople truly believed in the evil of the woods—knowing the godless nature of the wild—and thus retained their insularity in their desire to preserve their settlement’s values. But it is in the woods that people find forgiveness for their sins inside the community, as Hester and Dimmesdale discover in their nighttime meeting.

In line with this forest imagery, Hawthorne compares Hester's passion to the movement of a brook's water and its seeming sadness (a metaphor that has recurred throughout the novel). The idea of a sad brook, slowly going into the forest, indicates that Hester is lost and does not know where she will end up. In this chapter she makes the decision to follow the brook deeper into the wilderness. In the woods, she is invigorated, brought to a new sense of life, so much so that she lets her hair down and throws away the scarlet letter.

Notice the title of the chapter, and its repetition of the sunshine motif that we discussed earlier. The sun, of course, is an obvious symbol for redemption and life, but it was blocked earlier by a desire to hide the truth—namely, Dimmesdale's place as Pearl's father. In this chapter, however, Hester finally disposes of the scarlet letter, and Dimmesdale takes his place as Pearl's father, welcoming her with love. The sunshine breaks through the darkness of lies, shame and ignorance, and for a brief moment light shines on this newly reconciled, peaceful family.