What Was Hester’s Husband’s Real Name?

I disagreed with the woman who teaches English 11 today, and she wasn’t very happy with me. I thought that what I had told my students was logical, but she thought that I had unnecessarily complicated matters.

See, we are just finishing THE SCARLET LETTER. We didn’t read it, though. We watched this version, which is basically true to the book.

Anyway. You know the basic story, right? Puritan woman (Hester Prynne) has an affair, refuses to name her lover, has to wear an A to symbolize her sin of adultery for the rest of her life. She’s married, but the baby’s father turns out to be the local minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. And Hester’s husband, Roger, who has been lost for the past two years, shows up just as she is getting her public punishment.

The girls are supposed to write a letter from Pearl (the baby) as an adult to a friend, telling what her life was like before she found out that Arthur Dimmesdale was her father. The boys are supposed to write a letter from Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband,to his lawyer in England, explaining why he chose to leave his earthly goods to Pearl, who was NOT his daughter.

I work mostly with boys who are, for the most part, thoroughly convinced that they cannot write. I try to convince them otherwise, and I have found that it helps to talk the prompt through with them. Which is what I was doing when the problem started.

See, the boys wanted to know what good old Roger would have to say to his lawyer, and I said, “Well, he’s probably going to begin by explaining why he uses the name Chillingworth in Boston.”

“What?” they said.

“Well, ” I replied, “good old Roger sent Hester over from England, and he fully expected to join her. Nobody plans a shipwreck. He came to Boston looking for Hester Prynne, his wife. It’s my theory that he changed his name on the spur of the moment when the first thing he saw upon reaching Boston was his wife up on a scaffold holding a baby that could not possibly be his. He makes Hester promise that she won’t reveal who he is because he would be shamed by an adulterous wife, so he can’t use the name of Roger Prynne. What would people think?”

“But how do you know Hester didn’t change her name?” they asked.

“Think about it,” I said. “She fully expected Roger to join her, and the people of Boston knew she was married. Why would she use a name that was not her husband’s when she expected him to join her?”

They thought about that and decided to use the idea in their letters. Which set off the teacher. Which led the boys to tell me that I was wrong. She told them that Hester kept her maiden name, but we are talking the 1640s here, and nobody did that then.

I couldn’t find any official sources that agree with me, although I did find this essay about the changes in good old Roger, and I don’t suppose it matters in the long run, anyway. After all, it’s just a few essays. It’s just that the idea makes sense to me, and since the standard that was being taught was relating the literature to the time period, I didn’t see any sense in the teacher’s reply.

My husband has told me that my English training would get in my way in this job. Occasionally, like today, he’s right. And I needed to rant. Thank you so much for listening.


12 Responses to “What Was Hester’s Husband’s Real Name?”

  1. 1 Rochelle Ritzi September 13, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Hey… we can’t please them all! Rant all you want! I’m listening. 🙂

  2. 2 Becky September 14, 2007 at 5:49 am

    Thanks for being there, Rochelle. 🙂

  3. 3 Lillie September 15, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Makes sense to me Aunt Becky. (Although I have to admit to never reading or seeing the Scarlet Letter)

  4. 4 Becky September 16, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    Hi Lillie,

    Being a college girl, I know you won’t have time to read the book,but the movie in the link I provided in the post is pretty true to the book. I’d be interested in hearing what you think of it.

  5. 5 writeathome September 17, 2007 at 2:43 am

    I remember reading The Scarlet Letter in highschool. I guess I never really thought about Roger changing his last name, but what you said makes sense to me. I don’t know why another teacher would be upset about you voicing this opinion, especially when it seemed like it sparked some interest in the reluctant boy writers.

  6. 6 Becky September 18, 2007 at 5:41 am

    I like the teacher. She’s very thorough, but very “formulaic”–she doesn’t like new ideas unless she has had time to absorb them. The English teachers at our school are trying a writing-based curriculum, which is the way I was taught to teach English, so I like it. Some of them, though, have a hard time with accepting ideas that are new to them even when there is evidence for them. I think that’s what a good English teacher should do, but I am just an aid…

  7. 7 The Nephew September 18, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    actually this is not the nephew … it is the ‘niece in law’ i guess? when i had to read and study the book my freshman year of english we were taught the most logical way for the 1640’s. and i agree with you. it is a great book, i loved the symolism.

  8. 8 Becky September 19, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks, Melissa. Since I know where you went to school, your input means a lot.

  9. 9 Heather October 5, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Oh, I loved the Scarlett Letter–we read it in 8th grade English and I got seriously in trouble for reading it through on the first night instead of doing it slowly like everyone else–had to reread it three times because of all the little tests she gave. Sigh. Anyway, I am in full agreement with you. I always wondered about that bit and it makes perfect sense–in fact is what I assumed (no idea what my teacher taught, she was a gym teacher who took over an English class, not the best sort.)

  10. 10 Becky October 5, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    The Scarlet Letter IS a good book, isn’t it? Every time I read it, I wonder about something else. Thanks for stopping by my blog. 🙂

  11. 11 justanote May 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Becky!
    Even though it’s really late…: you are definitely right about Chillingworth! : )
    In the 9th chapter called ‘The Leech’ he is introduced and it says:

    “Under the appelation of Roger Chillingworth, the reader will remember, was hidden another name, which its former wearer had resolved should never more be spoken.”
    It later says: “He chose to withdraw his name from the roll of life as completely as if he indeed lay at the bottom of the ocean.”

    So much for that…

    Have a nice day! : )

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