THE SCARLET LETTER
The Custom House:
Hawthorne says that he writes to the whole world hoping that someone will
understand what he is talking about.
He goes on to speak about Salem, where his relatives have lived and died since its
existence. Over time Salem has become more of an instinct to his family, and has tried to escape, but always come back. His children were not born in Salem because he wanted to break free of the tradition. He compares people to plants in that if you do not transplant, future crops will be ruined.
He descries his forefathers as Puritans. They would not approve of his lifestyle as a
writer because it is to unproductive.
He then describes his return to Salem and his new job at the Custom House. His
employees are elderly veterans that both amused and pained the author. After the men found out he meant no harm they relax and spend their time telling stories.
Custom House Inspector- head leader of all custom houses, great physical condition
despite of old age, but had no brains. His father put him into his position. He has no memories of experiences, only food.
Collector- very old, strong spirit, his age has physically affected him, in war he was
brutal, but now he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Surveyor- more in contact with his thoughts than with the real world, motto: ?I’ll try,
sir!?, described as a rusty sword
Author’s title: Surveyor of Revenue
One rainy day he looks through old barrels of articles and finds a scarlet letter ?A? and
a document describing the life of Hester Prynne. He claims that these serve as documents of proof for his novel. (These were never found and were probably made up to give the novel a historical sense.) He decides to write a book based on this. He does his writing under moonlight or firelight.
As he writes he realizes he must leave the Custom House. It’s way of producing a stable
life is addicting. It doesn’t allow you to ?support yourself.? But then he is promoted to ?P.P.? and decides to stay. Just as he begins to feel comfortable he was fired. Because of this he returned to writing. (Metaphor used: political guillotine.) He claims that although the story is somber, his mind-frame while writing remained cheerful.
He says he holds no grudges and that the Custom House people do not interest and
upset him anymore. He thinks that he will die and soon be forgotten in Salem. He also doesn’t think that future generations will find much of an interest in Salem, beyond the town’s water pump.
Chapter 1: The Prison Door
A crowd of men and women is gathered outside of Boston’s prison door. Although
Boston was originally designed as a Utopia, but the first few things to be built were the prison and the cemetery. He also says that the prison has been aged quickly.
Outside of the prison is a small lot with wild plants growing in it. The most important is
the rose bush. It offers comfort to prisoners being brought into jail and to people about to be executed. This rosebush has been kept alive in history and outlived the gigantic pines and oaks around it.
Chapter 2: The Market Place
The author starts the chapter with a crowd outside the prison gate. He explains that in
this time even minor violations and punishments were treated exactly the same as executions. Women of this time were not only larger physically, but were more forceful verbally as well. This is the main reason they dislike Hester, who is better looking than they are. They feel that her punishment should be severe, from a branding on her forehead to death.
Hester comes out of the prison and allows her three-month-old child to see natural light
for the first time. She then shifts her baby to her other arm to reveal a scarlet ?A? on her. It is described as ?artistically done,? ?gorgeous,? and ?elaborate.?
Hester Prynne- young, tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale, dark hair
that was ?so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam,? deep black eyes, beautiful face, ladylike
Hester surprises the crowd by coming out with dignity and beauty instead of being
obscured. The crowd was also upset that her scarlet letter was so nice that it almost was a thing of pride instead of punishment.
She made her way into the market place and stood on the town scaffold. The crowd was
somber and grave. Hester soon begins to reminisce about different events in her life. She remembers her father and mother in England. She also remembers a man that was deformed that is connected to her going to Boston. The she goes back to reality and is finding it hard to believe that she is actually on the scaffold with her baby and the scarlet letter ?A?.
Chapter 3: The Recognition
Hester looks over the crowd and is horrified to see an Indian with a disfigured man.
The man has a conversation with a man in the crowd. From this he learns that the deformed man had ?grievous mishaps by sea? and has since been a prisoner of Indians. He is in town now to try to be redeemed out of his captivity. The man in the crowd then explains that the woman being punished is Hester Prynne. She had been the wife of a learned man in England who was to move to Massachusetts. This man sent his wife ahead to take care of affairs after she left. Hester arrived in Boston and two years go by without word from her husband. He is considered lost at sea. Hester eventually gets lonely and has a child with an unknown man in the colony. This is why she is being punished today.
Hester concentrates on the disfigured man and doesn’t hear her name being called by
Governor Bellingham- a gentleman advanced in years with hard experiences written on
John Wilson- the oldest clergyman of Boston, a great scholar, kind and genial spirit
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale- a young clergyman, very striking aspect, white, lofty, and
impending brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which was apt to be tremulous, kept himself simple and childlike
Dimmesdale had been chosen to give the child’s unknown father a chance to confess.
He asks Hester to name the father, but she refuses. After she continually refuses to give the father’s name, clergyman Wilson goes into a sermon on sin, during which Hester’s baby cries. Then Hester is returned to the prison once again. Her scarlet letter gleams on the prison wall before she finally goes away.
Chapter 4: The Interview
After Hester returns to her jail cell she is in a state of frenzy. Guards are worried she
might hurt herself or the baby so they call a physician to see her. The physician is the same person Hester was married to and had seen in the crowd.
As soon as he enters the cell he administers a medicine to comfort the baby. Then he
looks over Hester.
Roger Chillingworth (a.k.a. Mr. Prynne)- Husband of Hester’s that sent her ahead to
Boston but he never came. He was captured y Indians and has since learned medicines that are very advanced. He is physically deformed, one shoulder lower than the other.
He tells Hester he has no grudge against her, but he does against the baby’s father. He
asks her repeatedly, but she will not tell. He claims that it doesn’t matter if she speaks to him about it because he believes that the guilt will make him stick out from the crowd. Roger makes Hester swear to keep it a secret that he is alive, especially to the real father and she agrees. He then comments then comments that this will ruin her soul, not his.
Chapter 5: Hester at the Needle
Hester’s prison sentence is finally over. When she walks out of the prison alone this
time she realizes the reality of the situation. She decides to stay in Boston, even though she could easily flee. She feels a connection to the spot and feels that by staying she will purify herself and possibly receive redemption for her sin. She makes her home in a small thatched cottage on a peninsula in the outskirts of town. Over time children watch from a distance and then run away in fear.
To make money Hester begins to make garments for the upper class members of her
town. Her works are worn at major ceremonies and become the fashion. She also spends time making clothes for free to give to the poor as a way of penance. Hester herself wore course garments, while her baby was dressed nice.
Hester was still an outcast from society. She had grown patient to the way people scold
her when they buy her clothes. The poor people were not grateful and continued to torment her. Hester is hurt every time this happens. She tries to seek shelter in a church, but found the sermon about her. She always felt everyone looking at the scarlet letter.
Hester’s loneliness causes her imagination to run wild. She imagines that the scarlet
letter gives her an extra sense that can tell if others have sinned. She still believes that no one’s sin is as great as hers is. Also, stories and urban legends spread about her letter being magical and more than just cloth.
Chapter 6: Pearl
Hester chooses to name her baby Pearl because she was a great price and was
purchased with all her mother had. Pearl’s character sometimes worried Hester. She is not easily tamed by verbal restraints, but only by physical ones. Hester notices that Pearl sometimes seems incapable of feeling real emotions, as in her mother cries and Pearl laughs.
Pearl soon begins to hate the members of Boston. She will throw rocks at the children
who try to approach her. Instead of imaginary friends, she battles imaginary enemies. Hester thinks that her child is cursed and feels grief for Pearl.
Pearl has a fascination for Hester’s letter. Hester is very uncomfortable with this and by
the look of intelligence on Pearl’s face. Hester imagines that an evil spirit lives inside Pearl and sometimes looks out through her eyes. In a conversation with Pearl, Hester claims that God sent Pearl to Earth, but Pearl thinks Hester is playing a game and doesn’t believe her. In town the new rumor is that Hester’s child has no human father. Instead she is a demon child.
Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall
When delivering a set of gloves to Governor Bellingham, Hester plans to speak with
him about the rumors that Pearl will e taken away from her. She brings Pearl along with her. Pearl is wearing a crimson dress that reminds Hester of her scarlet letter. On the way Pearl scares off children who were planning to throw mud at them.
The governor’s house was covered with a stucco mixed with glass to give it a glittery
effect. A servant answered the door. He was new to town and assumed the letter meant Hester was of great importance, so he allowed them to enter. When inside they admire the governor’s mansion, especially a suit of armor. When they look out a window to the garden they see the governor approaching with three other men.
Chapter 8: The Elf Child and the Minister
Governor Bellingham enters his home with Mr. Wilson, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale,
and Roger Chillingworth following. They approach Pearl and she introduces herself. They are amused until they find out she is Hester’s daughter. They try to convince Hester that Pearl would be better off in a different home, but Hester refuses.
Mr. Wilson is asked to question Pearl about who made her. Pearl makes up a story that
she was plucked off a rosebush, which infuriates the Governor. Hester, who just witnessed this, quickly grabs Pearl and says she will fight to the death to keep her. They are about to take Pearl away when Hester pleads to let Dimmesdale speak on her behalf. He does and convinces the others to let her keep Pearl.
Her business done, Hester leaves with Pearl. On their way out Mistress Hibbins invites Hester to go to the woods and meet the ?Black Man.? Hester refuses, saying she must instead tend to Pearl.
Mistress Hibbins- Governor Bellingham’s bitter tempered sister, late executed as a
Chapter 9: The Leech
Some of Roger Chillingworth’s history is revealed. His reason for choosing a new
identity was to hide his relation to Hester. He learned how to make medicine out of herbs from his years with the Indians. When he started practicing in Boston as a physician he was the best in the town. He chose as his spiritual guide Reverend Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale was getting increasingly sick, noticeable by his paleness and clutching his heart at any excitement. This is when Chillingworth arrived in town just in time to treat him. The town had spread rumors that it was a miracle from Heaven.
Over time they grew closer together. Dimmesdale found Chillingworth’s new ideas
refreshing, but never spoke of things too unorthodox. They move in together and townspeople notice a change in Chillingworth. Now People see him as an evil being that Dimmesdale must overcome.
Chapter 10: The Leech and his Patient
Roger Chillingworth had begun his search for Pearl’s father originally from a point of
neutrality, like a judge, but over time he became obsessed with it. He wanted nothing else except for Dimmesdale to confess.
Roger questions Dimmesdale thoroughly about confessing sins and is interrupted by
Pearl and Hester walking by in the adjacent graveyard. For a moment they all look at each other in silence until Pearl laughs and runs off.
Roger suggests to Dimmesdale that his sickness may be coming from a spiritual
wound. He tries desperately to get Dimmesdale to confess, but instead he runs out of the room. Later Dimmesdale apologizes to Roger.
Dimmesdale falls asleep while reading a textbook and Roger takes this chance to pull
back Dimmesdale’s vest. He is ecstatic about what he finds and dances around the room as the author compares him to Satan, except with the trait of wonder.
Chapter 11: The Interior of a Heart
After Roger knows for sure that Dimmesdale is truly Pearl’s father he begins to say
things just to hurt Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale starts to dislike Roger, but convinces himself that it is his own sin that makes him feel this.
As Dimmesdale feels worse, his popularity grows. It is also said that the reason of his
success was only because he has a ?Tongue of Flame.? Dimmesdale tries to tell people he is bad, but the crowds only think he is better because o fit. Dimmesdale feels even guiltier because he is so worshiped for being pure and sinless.
Dimmesdale is unable to confess so he punishes himself in other ways. He brutally
beats himself in a closet while laughing. He also stays up all night imaging that everyone hates him while staring into a mirror. One night he gets an idea to do something and gets dressed in fancy attire and walks out of his house.
Chapter 12: The Minister’s Vigil
Dimmesdale leaves his house to stand on the same scaffold Hester originally stood on.
He is unable to be seen because clouds cover the moon. Dimmesdale screams when he realized he has accomplished nothing by standing there. Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins both awake to investigate, but don’t see him. Late Dimmesdale sees Mr. Wilson walking out of Governor Winthrop’s home. He had been there to stay with him while he died. Dimmesdale almost calls out to Mr. Wilson, but losses his nerve.
Some time passes and Dimmesdale imagines himself still there in the morning for all to
see. He laughs out loud at this. Someone lese answers his laughter. It’s Pearl, accompanied y Hester, returning also from the home of the later Governor Winthrop. He invites them to join him on the scaffold and when they come up they all join hands with Pearl in the middle.
Pearl repeatedly asks Dimmesdale to join her and Hester on the scaffold at noon the
next day. He refuses. Dimmesdale sees Pearl point at something and he sees a comet form a giant letter ?A? in the sky. The author hints that it was all in his mind. Pearl continues to point and he realizes she is pointing at Roger. Dimmesdale is frightened and asks Hester who he really is. Hester refuses because of her earlier vow. Pearl says she knows and when he ends down to listen she only mumbles nonsense in his ear. Pearl says it is because he wouldn’t stand with them the next day. Chillingworth calls Dimmesdale to go home and he does.
The next day Dimmesdale gives a powerful sermon. After it he is given his glove that
was found at the scaffold. He is told the ?A? the night before stands for ?Angel? after Governor Winthrop died.
Chapter 13: Another View of Hester
Hester realizes how much Dimmesdale has suffered and feels an iron link between
them. It is revealed that seven years have past since the story began and in this time Hester’s reputation has change. With nothing to aggravate them, the townspeople forgive Hester. She becomes a ?Sister of Mercy? to those in need of comforting. Her scarlet ?A? now stands for ?able? to help others, instead of ?adultery.? Townspeople speak highly of Hester and make stories that her letter can save her from danger. The years of being alone have changed Hester. She is no longer considered beautiful, which makes her less threatening. Her turning from a life of living to thinking forms her coldness. She speculated the way the government worked and how it needed to change. Had Pearl not been born she might have acted on some impulses, but she never did. She though about killing Pearl, and about killing herself. After seeing Dimmesdale she realizes she must help him because he is in danger because of her. She decides to reveal Chillingworth’s identity. She gets her chance soon one day when she is out with Pearl and he is picking herbs.
Chapter 14: Hester and the Physician
Hester approaches Roger at the each while leaving Pearl to play alone. Roger tells her
that she may soon not have to wear her scarlet letter any more. Hester says that she will wear anyway. Hester notices a change in Roger, that he has become evil. Hester tells him she plans to reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale. She tries to make Roger realize what he has become and that he should stop. For a moment Roger sees himself, but quickly dismisses it. He tells Hester how Dimmesdale must e punished. Hester asks why he doesn’t want to punish her. He responds by saying the scarlet letter has already punished her. Hester tells Roger that she will tell Dimmesdale and walks away, but Roger does not try to stop her.
Chapter 15: Hester and Pearl
Hester looks back at Roger as she walks away. She imagines him turning into horrible
monsters. Meanwhile, Pearl has kept busy by making a costume out of seaweed, including a seaweed letter ?A.? Hester sees the ?A? and asks if Pearl knows what the ?A? stands for. Pearl only knows it is related to Dimmesdale somehow. Then Pearl asks why her mother wears the letter. Hester panics and a thousand thoughts race through her head. She decides not to tell Pearl what it stands for. After they return home Pearl still questions Hester about the letter every chance she gets.
Chapter 16: A Forrest Walk
Hester remains determined in telling Dimmesdale about Chillingworth’s true identity,
but can never get to him in privacy. She learns that he will be returning soon from a visit to Apostle Eliot. Hester decides to meet him. She brings Pearl with her as always.
To get there they must first pass through a forrest. Pearl says that Hester scares the
sunshine away. Hester says that is ridiculous, but when she reaches out for it, it disappears. As they walk Pearl questions Hester about the ?Black Man? with the book of blood signatures. Hester says she has met only once.
A figure appears in the distance, which turns out to be Dimmesdale. Hester sends Pearl
off to play while she talks with him. Hester watches him for a moment and sees how weak and depressed he is.
Chapter 17: The Pastor and his Parishioner
Hester calls out to Dimmesdale as he walks by in the forrest. They meet and hold
hands. They start off by talking about everyday things before Hester builds up enough courage to tell him her secret.
Hester tells him that Roger Chillingworth is her husband. Dimmesdale almost dies
because of the news. Dimmesdale is still feeling guilty, to which Hester tells him that he is in great danger. Hester tells him he must flee Boston. Dimmesdale is willing to do it, but not alone. Hester agrees to go with him.
Chapter 18: A Flood of Sunshine
Once it was decided upon to leave, Dimmesdale feels happy. Hester also feels so
relieved that she removes her scarlet letter and throws it into the forrest. After she does this, her ?womanhood? reappears. Also, the forrest is suddenly covered in sunshine.
Once this happens Hester decides to get Pearl. Pearl is some way off on the other side of
a brook that runs through the forrest. Pearl has kept herself busy by playing in the forrest. She comes in contact with many animals, including a wolf. She adorns herself with flowers as she hears Hester call for her.
Chapter 19: The Child at the Brookside
Pearl walks slowly up to the edge of the rook. When she is there her reflection in the
water gives her a mystical quality. Hester calls for Pearl, but Pearl will not cross the stream. Hester realizes that Pearl wants her to wear her letter. Hester finds it and puts it back on, pulls back her hair, and returns to her former self . At this Pearl joins Hester and Dimmesdale on the other side of the stream. Dimmesdale kisses Pearl on the head. She immediately washes her forehead off in the brook while Hester and Dimmesdale make plans.
Chapter 20: The Minister in a Maze
Dimmesdale makes plans with Hester to leave on a ship in four days. He is secretly
happy because in three days he can deliver a speech announcing his retirement.
Dimmesdale returns to town with a new outlook on everything. He also felt
mischievous. When reunited with a high member of the church he almost says blashemous suggestions. When passing by an elderly member of his church he whispers something into her ear that makes her very happy. Then he passes a young woman of his clergy. He is very rude to her causing her to cry. Mistress Hibbins passes and suggests that he was in the forrest for evil. He denies it as he returns to his house.
Soon after returning Chillingworth comes in to check up on him. Dimmesdale tells him
that he will no longer need his medicines. Roger suspects that Dimmesdale knows his identity, but doesn’t let it show. That night Dimmesdale spends writing a revised Election Sermon.
Chapter 21: The New England Holiday
Hester and Pearl attended the ceremony of naming a new governor. Hester thinks to
herself that soon she will never have to wear the letter again.
A crowd gathers for the approaching ceremony. Adults are let off from work and
children from school. The scene is very busy with things not normally allowed. Indians and pirates also are part of the scene. Roger Chillingworth enters the scene speaking with the captain of the ship Hester plans to escape on. The captain leaves Roger to speak with Hester. He tells her that Roger will e on the ship with them as the ship’s physician. The captain walks away and as he does Hester sees Roger smiling at her.
Chapter 22: The Procession
Hester is shocked at the news, but her thoughts are interrupted by the procession
starting. When Dimmesdale passes by he seems uncharacteristically healthy and upbeat. Hester questions if he is even the same person she met in the forrest three days earlier. Pearl hardly recognizes him as well. At this time Mistress Hibbins approaches Hester. She tells her that she knows that Dimmesdale had gone into the forrest. She also said she knew there was a mark on his chest. After she leaves Pearl entertains herself with the crowd. She meets the captain of the ship, who tells her to tell Hester that Chillingworth will board the ship with Dimmesdale. Hester is still confused about what to do.
Dimmesdale begins his powerful sermon while a crowd gathers to look at the infamous
Hester. Hester feels worse because of the letter than when she first had to put it on. At the end of the chapter it is revealed that the same mark is on Hester and Dimmesdale.
Chapter 23: The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter
Dimmesdale finishes his sermon. As people leave the church they speak nothing but
praise of the minister, who they believe is still dying. Dimmesdale was enjoying his success while Hester was still being tormented.
As Dimmesdale walks from the church to town hall he appears weak and about to fall.
He stops in the middle of the ceremony and calls out to Hester and Pearl. Roger tries to stop her but he can not. Dimmesdale asks Hester to help him up to the scaffold. Chillingworth follows them up. The crowd is going crazy and the other members of the procession do not know what to do.
Dimmesdale told the crowd that there had been an evil among them. He pointed to the
scarlet letter and them showed the crowd a stigma ?A? on his heart. With his last words he asks for a kiss from Pearl. When she gives it to him she becomes a natural, well-behaved child. Soon afterward he dies on the scaffold. The crowd then breaks out of their silence.
Chapter 24: Conclusion
Stories spread about the occurrences on the scaffold. While most people believed the
stigma was formed by guilt, others believed it was never even really there.
Roger Chillingworth soon dies, as he has nothing left to live for once he doesn’t seek
revenge. Before he dies he bequeathed a large amount of money to Pearl.
Hester and Pearl fled Boston. It is not known if Pearl died or lived a normal life. Hester
returns to Boston, wearing her scarlet letter, to live in her cottage. Women from the town come to her for advice until her death. On her tombstone reads: ?On a field, sable, the letter A, gules.?