The Scarlet Letter | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Chapter 16 | Forest Walk

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of chapter 16 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter.

The Scarlet Letter | Chapter 16 : A Forest Walk | Summary



Finding out that Dimmesdale has gone to a Native American village, Hester, determined to warn him about Chillingworth, takes Pearl with her to meet him in the forest. Pearl asks if she will wear a scarlet A, and Hester says that she hopes not. Pearl goes to play in a sunny spot but when Hester joins her, the sun goes behind a cloud. Pearl asks Hester if she has met the Black Man. Hester replies that they met once, and the scarlet letter came from that meeting. They hear someone approaching. Pearl asks if it is the Black Man, but Hester says that it is Dimmesdale. Pearl goes off to play, and Dimmesdale approaches Hester with his hand held over his heart.


In this chapter we again see the symbols of the sun (truth) and shadow (secrecy), suggesting the themes of public and private truth. That the sun does not shine on Hester as it does on Pearl provides symbolic confirmation that her reluctance to speak the truth to Pearl in the previous chapter has cast a shadow over her. The symbol once again suggests the significance of being truthful, even if it means revealing one's worst secrets.

The Black Man is a reference to Satan whom the Puritans believed lived in the forest, the place of wildness and disorder. Hester and Pearl's exchange about the Black Man links Dimmesdale to Satan. While Hester may have meant that succumbing to temptation was meeting the Black Man, it is her relationship with the minister that resulted in her being given the scarlet letter. Chillingworth is the Black Man due to his actions, and he lives freely among the people.

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