Hawthorne takes a moment to explain that the Puritans in New England weren’t all drab and bitter; most were native Englishmen, who back in the old country were merry and joyful, and today’s holiday brings back the merriment they must have remembered, even though we don’t see it otherwise.
“Their immediate posterity,” Hawthorne tells us, “the generation next to the early emigrants, wore the blackest shade of Puritanism, and so darkened the national visage with it, that all the subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up. We have yet to learn again the forgotten art of gaiety.”
I think the story would be one thing, if Dimmesdale learned that the sea escape was scuttled, and then did the next best thing and confessed himself to death before the whole town. But the procession is going on just when Hester learns from the sea captain that Chilligworth is coming on the ship, too. At this dramatic moment, Hawthorne halts the story to describe the procession – this parade of soldiers, musicians, officials, and of course the ministers, and the tension emphasizes Hester’s inability to act.