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The Scarlet Letter Summary and Analysis

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Scarlet Letter Summary and Synopsis

Short Summary: The Scarlet Letter is a novel providing a view of Puritan society in the 17th century.

The story takes place in Boston, following young Hester Prynne and her life as an outcast having been caught committing adultery when she gives birth to a daughter. Her husband had sent her to Boston from Europe, planning to follow her. When he never arrived, many people assumed he’d been lost at sea.

Still, Hester is punished for her adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest for the rest of her life. When her husband returns under a false identity, Hester and her young daughter must navigate the fallout of sin, betrayal, and revenge.

the scarlet letter summary

Literary Elements of The Scarlet Letter

the scarlet letter synopsis

Type of Work: Novel

Genres: Historical; romance  

Published Date: 1850  

Setting: Boston, MA during the 17th century

Main Characters: Hester Prynne  

Protagonist: Hester Prynne

Antagonist: Roger Chillingworth

Major Thematic Elements: The human experience of sin; society and personal identity; the presentation of evil  

Motifs: Civilization and wilderness; night and day; names

Exposition: A preamble relayed by a nameless narrator recounts the discovery of a manuscript found in a customhouse in Salem, Massachusetts of which he was the surveyor. The manuscript was written by a past surveyor telling events that happened two hundred years prior to the narrator’s time. The Scarlet Letter , as a result, is a fictional retelling of the manuscript.

Conflict: When Hester Prynne’s husband mysteriously fails to meet her in Boston after their emigration from Europe, she has an affair and gives birth to a child. Enraged, the community forces her to wear the letter “A” on her clothes, standing for “adulterer.”  

Plot: Past-tense chronological told by an unnamed narrator.  

Major Symbols: The letter; the town scaffold; the meteor; Pearl; the rosebush  

Climax: A meteor traces an “A” in the sky and Dimmesdale confronts his role in the sin Hester is being punished for.  

Literary Significance of the Scarlet Letter

the scarlet letter summary

In this novel, Hawthorne has used Puritan culture as a symbol for humankind in general when under extreme pressure. The way people react to change, fear, distress, etc. can all be examined in this tale. The problems that these individuals face are problems that humankind in general repeatedly faces—betrayal, revenge, jealousy, fear, sadness, etc. are all emotions that are born of great pressure. The novel begs the question—is how we react to these issues ever really different, even after all these years of human development? At our core, have we really changed? This timeless exploration of the human condition earned The Scarlet Letter an unmoving place in the English literary canon, and the novel continues to be studied to this day.  

The Scarlet Letter Book Summary, Plot Outline

the scarlet letter in depth summary

The novel’s action opens in 17th century Boston as a young woman emerges from a prison building holding an infant and wearing a scarlet “A” on her chest. She is being punished for adultery by having to stand on scaffolding to be mocked by the townspeople for three hours and continuing to wear the “A” on her clothes from then on. Hester arrived in Boston ahead of her husband, who was supposed to follow her there but never arrived. People assumed he was lost at sea on the journey. In chapter three, Hester is standing before the town on the scaffold and is confronted by the town fathers, who demand that she reveal the name of her child’s father. She refuses.

An elderly onlooker in the crowd is later called to visit Hester in prison in chapter four. He is a doctor named Roger Chillingworth. However, Hester has already recognized him in her time on the scaffold as her husband in disguise. He tells Hester that he plans to get revenge on her and the partner to her affair. He swears her to secrecy not to reveal his true identity and she wonders aloud whether he might be a devil sent to torment her.

Several years pass after Hester is released from a few months’ prison sentence. Although Hester can leave Boston, she stays and lives on as an example of a disgraced woman. Hester is able to support herself by working as a seamstress, and her daughter, Pearl, grows into a willful, inquisitive, and rebellious young girl. The two live on the outskirts of town, shunned by the community. In chapter eight, the question of whether or not Hester and Pearl should stay together is brought up by town officials. They believe that either Pearl is a demon-child and should be taken away for Hester’s sake or that Pearl is a normal girl and should be removed from Hester for Pearl’s healthy development. The young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, interrupts and says that Pearl was sent by God and should stay with her mother.

In chapter nine, Chillingworth is described as having become the town doctor. When Arthur Dimmesdale begins showing signs of severe health problems, Chillingworth petitions the town officials to assign him to live with Dimmesdale so that he can work to cure him. Chillingworth suspects that there is a connection between Hester and Pearl and Dimmesdale’s failing health—that there is a secret there worth uncovering. After spending some time with Dimmesdale, Chillingworth becomes convinced that he is who Hester had her affair with.

As time goes on, Dimmesdale’s health continues to worsen and his psychological condition declines. Chillingworth adds to this by playing mind games with his patience, thereby enacting his revenge. Dimmesdale starts to whip himself and deprive himself of sleep to meditate on his sin. In chapter twelve, Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold at night. Hester and Pearl walk by and join him on the scaffold, forming an “electric chain” which causes Dimmesdale to feel soothed. Pearl asks Dimmesdale to join them again on the scaffold the following day at noon, but Dimmesdale refuses. A bright meteor flashes through the sky, and the trio notice Chillingworth watching them.

As time goes on, Hester commits herself to volunteering and being a source of aid to people in need. Although she’s still an object of scorn and torment, she begins to win back the favor of her community. She even asks Chillingworth to stop tormenting Dimmesdale. Aware of how wretched he has become, Chillingworth places all blame on Hester for what has happened. In chapter fifteen, Hester talks to Pearl about the meaning of the scarlet “A” that she wears and Pearl is able to put two-and-two together about their situation and Dimmesdale’s bad health.

In the next chapter, Hester arranges to meet Dimmesdale in the forest to tell him about Chillingworth’s real identity. When they meet, they decide to flee to Europe where they can live as a family with young Pearl. They agree to depart in four days. Hester removes the scarlet letter from her chest and lets her hair down, feeling a sense of relief. Chillingworth, however, has discovered their plan and books travel on the same ship.

In chapter twenty-three, after delivering an election sermon, Dimmesdale calls for Hester and Pearl to join him on the scaffold. When they do, he confesses publicly to his sins and to being Pearl’s father. He removes his garments and reveals a letter “A” emblazoned into his chest. He falls down atop the scaffold and Pearl kisses him. After this, he dies.

Having been foiled on his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston without keeping anyone there updated on their lives. Several years later, Hester returns to Boston alone, taking up home in the cottage where she and Pearl used to live and continues to do charity work. She receives letters from Pearl from time to time, updating her mother on her new life having married a European aristocrat and started a family of her own. When Hester dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale, sharing his tomb, which shows a scarlet “A” on it.

'The Scarlet Letter' Plot Summary

Romance and Religious Intolerance in 17th Century Boston

Quentin Cohan is a graduate of Williams College with degrees in both English and History. He covered literature for ThoughtCo.

  • Williams College

The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne set in Boston, then the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in the mid-17 th century (about fifty years before the nearby Salem Witch Trials ). It tells the story of the relationship between the Puritan community and Hester Prynne, the protagonist, after it is discovered that she bore a child out of wedlock—an act that cuts against society’s religious values. As punishment for her actions, Prynne is forced to wear a scarlet “A,” which, as it is never said outright, presumably stands for “adultery” or “adulterer.” The narrative, which is framed by an introductory piece entitled “The Custom-House,” depicts the seven years following Prynne’s crime.

The Custom-House

This introduction, written by a nameless first-person narrator who shares many biographical details with the book’s author, serves as the main narrative’s framework. In this section, the narrator, who has an interest in writing, tells of how he works as a surveyor at the Salem Custom House—a moment he takes as an opportunity mainly to disparage and mock his colleagues, many of whom are older and have secured lifetime appointments through family connections.

This section takes place in the mid-19 th century, and, as such, the Custom House has much less activity than it did during its heyday two centuries earlier. As a result, the narrator spends a good deal of his time snooping about in the attic of the building, whereupon he finds an old piece of red cloth in the shape of the letter “A,” as well as a century-old manuscript by a previous surveyor named Jonathan Pue, about a series of local events from a century even before his time. The narrator reads this manuscript, and then reflects on how his Puritan ancestors, whom he holds in high esteem, would have looked down on him writing a work of fiction, but, after he loses his job as a result of a shift in local politics, he does so anyway. His text, loosely based on the Pue manuscript, becomes the basis of the novel.

Hester Prynne and Pearl

In mid-17 th century Puritan Boston, then the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a local woman, Hester Prynne, is discovered to have had a child out of wedlock. This is a major offense in the extremely religious community. As punishment she is made to stand for several hours with her child, Pearl, in a stocks on a scaffold in the town square, and then to wear a scarlet A embroidered on her clothing for the remainder of her days. While standing on the scaffold, exposed to the public, Prynne is hectored by both the mob and the prominent members of the town, including the adored minister Arthur Dimmesdale, to name the child’s father—but she stalwartly refuses. Also while she is standing there, she sees a white man, guided in by a Native American man, enter the scene at the back of the mob. Prynne and this man make eye contact, but he puts a finger in front of his lips.

After the spectacle, Prynne is brought to her prison cell, where she is visited by a doctor; this is the man she had seen at the back of the crowd, who is also, it turns out, her husband, Roger Chillingworth, recently arrived from England after having been thought dead. They have an open and amiable conversation about each of their shortcomings in their marriage, but when Chillingworth demands to know the identity of the child’s father, Prynne continues to refuse to reveal it.

Upon her release from prison, Prynne and her daughter move to a small cottage on the edge of the town, where she devotes herself to needlework (producing work of notable quality), and helping others in need as best she can. Their isolation eventually starts to affect Pearl’s behavior, as lacking playmates other than her mother, she grows into a rambunctious and unruly little girl. Her behavior starts to attract the townspeople’s attention, so much so that members of the church recommend that Pearl be taken away from Prynne in order to receive better supervision. This, obviously, greatly upsets Prynne, who goes to speak with Governor Bellingham. With the governor are the town’s two ministers, and Prynne appeals to Dimmesdale directly as part of her argument against the townspeople’s motions. Her plea wins him over, and he tells the governor that Pearl should remain with her mother. They return to their cottage as before, and, over the course of several years, Prynne begins to earn herself back into the town’s good graces through her helpful deeds.

Dimmesdale's Guilt

Around this time, the minister’s health begins to worsen, and it is suggested that Chillingworth, the new physician in town, take up residence with Dimmesdale to watch over him. The two get along at first, but as Dimmesdale’s health deteriorates, Chillingworth begins to suspect that his condition is in some way the manifestation of psychological distress. He begins to ask Dimmesdale about his mental state, which the minister resents; this pushes them apart. One night, shortly thereafter, Chillingworth sees on Dimmesdale’s chest, while the latter is sleeping, a symbol that represents the minister’s guilt.

Dimmesdale then, tormented by his guilty conscience, wanders one night into the town square and stands upon the scaffold where, several years before, he had looked upon Prynne as the town antagonized her. He acknowledges his guilt within himself, but cannot bring himself to do so publicly. While there, he runs into Prynne and Pearl, and he and Prynne finally discuss the fact that he is Pearl’s father. Prynne also determines that she will reveal this fact to her husband. Pearl, meanwhile, is wandering around beside her parents throughout this conversation, and repeatedly asks Prynne what the Scarlet A stands for, but her mother never responds with a serious answer.

A Plan for Revenge

Shortly thereafter, they meet again in the forest, and Prynne informs Dimmesdale of Chillingworth’s desire for revenge on the man who usurped him. As such, they make a plan to return together to England, which gives the minister a new bout of health and enables him to give one of his most rousing sermons at Election Day a few days later. As the procession leaves the church, though, Dimmesdale climbs up onto the scaffold to confess his relationship with Prynne, at which point he promptly dies in her arms. Later, there is much discussion amongst the townspeople over a mark seen upon the minister’s chest, which many claim was in the shape of an “A.”

With this affair now effectively settled, Chillingworth soon dies, leaving Pearl a large inheritance, and Prynne voyages to Europe, though she returns several years later and resumes wearing the scarlet letter. At some point thereafter she dies, and is buried in the same plot as Dimmesdale.

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The Scarlet Letter

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106 pages • 3 hours read

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Chapters 1-4

Chapters 5-8

Chapters 9-12

Chapters 13-16

Chapters 17-20

Chapters 21-24

Character Analysis

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Important Quotes

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Summary and Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 novel by writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The work, Hawthorne’s first full-length novel, is a classic of the American Romantic era. More specifically, its treatment of topics like sin, insanity, and the occult make it a work of Dark Romanticism—a movement related to the Gothic genre that includes works by Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. The Scarlet Letter is also a piece of historical fiction; it is set in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and refers to real historical figures like Governor Richard Bellingham and Reverend John Wilson . This study guide references the 2003 Penguin Classics edition of the work.

Plot Summary

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In the Introduction, Hawthorne describes how he came to write The Scarlet Letter . While working at the Salem Custom House—a job he found unbearably dull—he claims to have found some old papers about a woman named Hester Prynne , along with an embroidered letter A. This captured Hawthorne’s imagination and, after losing his job at the Custom House, he set out to write a novel based on his discovery.

The narrative proper opens outside a prison in mid-17th-century Salem, Massachusetts. A young woman named Hester emerges from the town jail carrying her infant daughter, then passes through the assembled crowd to a scaffold. She wears a red letter A that marks her as an adulteress, which she will be required to wear for the rest of her life.

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While atop the scaffold , Hester is alarmed to notice her husband in the crowd. The man, who now calls himself Roger Chillingworth , spent the last year as the prisoner of a Native American tribe and is familiar with both Western and indigenous medicine. Under the guise of tending to Hester and the baby, he visits her in her prison cell the same evening, assuring her of his forgiveness but asking that she keep his identity a secret. Hester agrees.

For the next couple of years Hester makes her living as a seamstress while raising her daughter Pearl. Pearl is a flighty, intelligent, and mischievous child, and Hester at one point must beg Governor Bellingham not to place her in another family’s care. Hester successfully retains custody of Pearl and over time begins to win a more favorable reputation for herself because of her various charitable works.

Meanwhile, Chillingworth has befriended and moved in with a young but sickly minister named Arthur Dimmesdale . He does so ostensibly to treat Dimmesdale’s illness, but as time goes by Chillingworth becomes increasingly convinced that Dimmesdale’s suffering stems from an undisclosed dark secret. One day while Dimmesdale is sleeping, Chillingworth glimpses something—later revealed to be a branded letter A—on the minister’s chest. Now certain that Dimmesdale was Hester’s lover, Chillingworth uses his knowledge to covertly torment the minister.

Wracked with guilt, Dimmesdale goes one night to the scaffold where Hester was punished. There he is joined by Hester and Pearl (now seven), who are returning home after keeping vigil in a sick house. As the three watch, a meteor lights the sky in a way reminiscent of a letter A. At almost the same moment they notice Chillingworth watching Dimmesdale with a vindictive expression. Noting Dimmesdale’s obvious terror, Hester later approaches Chillingworth on his behalf. She is unable to persuade Chillingworth to give up his vengeful schemes but warns him that she will tell Dimmesdale the truth about who he is.

Hester accordingly plans to meet Dimmesdale in the forest . Sending Pearl off to play, Hester tries to comfort and reassure Dimmesdale, eventually urging him to start a new life somewhere else. She promises to accompany him and tries to introduce him properly to Pearl, who rebuffs him.

Hester and Dimmesdale plan to sail for Bristol the day after Dimmesdale gives a sermon in honor of Election Day. While attending the festivities, however, Hester learns from the ship’s captain that Chillingworth has also booked passage. Before she can decide what to do, Dimmesdale emerges from the church. Seeing Hester, he asks her to help him up the scaffold, where he publicly proclaims his guilt and reveals the letter on his chest. He then dies in Hester and Pearl’s arms as Chillingworth watches furiously.

In an epilogue the narrator explains that Chillingworth himself died shortly after Dimmesdale, leaving his wealth to Pearl. She and Hester then traveled to Europe, where it’s assumed Pearl eventually married. Hester later returned to Salem, where she continued to wear the scarlet letter , and provided comfort and advice to those in need. She died as an old woman and was buried near Dimmesdale; they shared a headstone inscribed with the letter A.

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  • The Scarlet Letter

Background of the Novel

“The Scarlet letter” is a Romance written by an American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was published in 1850.  When it was published it earned great fame. Today it is considered a classic work. Different films and stage dramas got inspired by it. It was among the first mass-produced books of America. It is considered a masterpiece by critics. Moreover, it is regarded as a “Perfect work of American imagination” by the novelist D.H Lawrence.

The novel is written in third-person narration. It is told by an unnamed narrator who worked in the Custom House. He decided to write the story when he found a scarlet letter along with some parts of its story from the attic of the Custom House. He finally penned down this story after losing his job.

The novel tells us the story of Hester Prynne who carries a child because of her extra-marital affair. Later she suffers a lot after committing the great sin and is transformed into a new person by the end of the novel. The novel deals with the themes of sin, guilt, repentance, and revenge etc.

The Scarlet Letter Summary

Preface: the custom house.

The Scarlet letter opens with a long preface about how this book was written. The anonymous narrator of this novel worked as a surveyor of the Custom-house. The custom-house is a building where import and export goods are documented by the people. It was in Salem, Massachusetts. Many ships stopped coming to Salem so the narrator had not much to do. One day, he went to the attic of the custom-house. There were many documents. Among them, he found a manuscript that was wrapped in a scarlet golden embroidered piece of cloth in the shape of an “A”.

Those manuscripts were documented by a man named “Jonathan Pue” some hundred years before the narrator’s time. In them, there was a story of “Hester Prynne”. The narrator decided to write a narrative of Hester Prynne. Soon the Custom house found another person for the narrator’s job and he got fired. So after losing his job, he decided to write about all the fictional events documented in the manuscript. ” The Scarlet Letter” is the final product of it.

Chapter 1: The Prison Door

The first chapter tells us about the town prison. The story takes place in a Puritan settlement of the seventeenth century in Boston. The people of the town gather and they all start staring at the prison door. At one side of the prison door, there is a rose bush growing that everyone thinks is the blessing for those criminals who enter that door. The people of the town believe that the rose bush grew when Ann Hutchinson entered that door of the prison. Ann Hutchinson was a person in history who got punished because he gave a statement that people should focus on their individual relations with the god instead of depending on the minister’s orders.

Chapter 2: The Marketplace

The people of the town gather to watch the punishment given to Hester Prynne. In the crowd, the women seem busy in exchanging gossip. One woman says that the punishment of Hester should be execution. The other one suggests that her punishment is too light, just an “A” on her chest that can be easily covered up by anything. Then a woman scolds them. She disagrees with them by saying that she is sure that every day Hester will feel that mark. Soon Hester Prynne comes out of the prison door with her 3 months old daughter in her arms. The gossiping women get shocked to see that Hester didn’t hide the letter “A” rather she embroidered it to make it look beautiful.

The people of the town think that Hester is making fun of their punishment. The woman who scolded others says again that Hester must have felt each stroke of the needle in her heart while embroidering it. Hester moves out from the door to the center of the town and she is kept in a pillory that is a wooden structure with holes for hands and head and is used to display the criminal in front of the whole town for punishment. She remembers her mother, father, and her scholar. Her little baby starts crying when she squeezes her tightly.

Chapter 3: The recognition

Hester looks at the crowd and recognizes a white man. She tries to draw his attention towards her by squeezing her daughter until she cries. The man looks at her and puts the finger on his lips. The white man asks a person in the crowd what’s happening there. The man tells him that the lady is Hester Prynne who got married to a white man who has not been seen here for two years but the lady has a three months old child that’s why she is charged with adultery. The people insist her to tell the name of her baby’s father and the partner of hers in crime but she stands quiet.

Chapter 4: The Interview

Hester is taken back to the prison where an elderly doctor named “Roger Chillingworth” comes to see her. It is revealed that he is the same white man whom Hester recognized in the crowd. He is Hester’s missing husband who is practicing medicine now. He also wants to know about her lover. However, he asks Hester to keep his identity secret and she agrees.

Chapter 5: Hester at Her Needle

Hester didn’t tell anyone about her partner. However, she gets released from the prison with the decision that she will always be wearing the scarlet letter “A” on her clothes as a punishment. After coming out, she becomes a very good seamstress but everyone mocks and looks down upon her glancing the scarlet letter.

Chapter 6: Pearl

Hester names her daughter “Pearl”. She grows up and she is a very beautiful and charming girl. She is also treated badly in society just like her mother. People consider her the offspring of demons. As she grows up, she notices her mother’s scarlet letter ” A” on her clothes. One day she invents a game to hit flowers right on the scarlet letter. Hester feels that each flower is hurting and wounding her so she starts crying.

Chapter 7: The Governor Hall

Hester heard some rumors that the community officials are going to take away Pearl from her so she gets worried. She goes to see the Governor on this matter and she also takes a pair of fine embroidered gloves for him. She also takes Pearl with her dressed in the scarlet dress. While they await the Governor, they move out in his Garden for some time. Pearl starts crying to get a red rose from the garden. Meanwhile, they hear the voices of the Governor and some other people coming towards them.

Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister

Governor Bellingham arrives with the Ministers John Wilson and Arthur Dimmesdale and also a physician Roger Chillingworth accompanies them. Hester hides behind the curtain and only Pearl is visible in front of the men. They ask Pearl who she is but then they recognize that she is Hester Prynne’s daughter and Hester is also present behind her. Hester requests the Governor not to take her daughter away from her but the Governor snatches her from her mother. Hester then requests Dimmesdale for mercy. He and other men agree to leave Pearl. Dimmesdale, however, doesn’t look fine. He suffers some kind of heart problem.

Chapter 9: The Leech

Chillingworth is a good doctor. He works on combining the American Indian and British herbal medicines. He is considered as a Leech by the narrator. As Dimmesdale is sick, he often puts his hand on his heart. Maybe he feels severe pain in his heart but he doesn’t tell this to anyone. Chillingworth, however, starts his treatment but he doesn’t know about his problem so they decide that Chillingworth will live with Dimmesdale as it will help him to figure out his problem. Dimmesdale is unmarried and lives alone so he agrees to let his physician stay with him.

Chapter 10: The Leech and his Patient

Dimmesdale talks to Chillingworth about sins and their confession. He tells him that most people hide their sins by keeping secrets because they know that if they confess then they will never be able to do good for God. He also grabs his chest while talking as if he is feeling severe pain in his heart. Chillingworth suspects that Dimmesdale is concealing something from him. Chillingworth thinks that maybe there is some connection between Dimmesdale and Hester so he gets cautious to learn about his secret. One afternoon Dimmesdale falls asleep while reading a book. Chillingworth opens his shirt and he finds a mark on his chest which makes him sure that his suspicions were not incorrect.

Chapter 11: The Interior of a Heart

Chillingworth decides to take revenge from Dimmesdale but he can’t take it because Dimmesdale starts torturing himself because of his sin. Many times he tries to confess his sin but then ends up harming and beating himself cruelly as an act of repentance. He starts having visions of Hester Prynne at night, pointing her forefinger towards the letter on her dress then towards the mark on his chest.

Chapter 12: The Minister’s Vigil

One night Dimmesdale goes out to the scaffold. Meanwhile, Hester Prynne and Pearl come near him as they return from the deathbed of Minister Winthrop and they find him punishing himself for his sins. The little Pearl laughs and holds his hand. Dimmesdale and Hester get linked together by holding the hands of Pearl. Soon Roger Chillingworth appears and he looks evil. He asks Dimmesdale to come home with him.

Chapter 13: Another view of Hester

Hester gets worried to see the terrible condition of Dimmesdale. She knows that the regret and guilt are killing him inside and has made him sick. Pearl is now seven years old and the town has started respecting Hester again. Hester has worked very hard for the last few years to win the people’s hearts.

Now people even start talking that the “A” on Hester’s dress maybe means “able” or the scarlet letter actually means that she is sacred and holy. Hester sometimes thinks that she doesn’t deserve this honor and maybe she should die but she feels really bad for Dimmesdale and decides to help him. One day she gets a chance to do it when she goes on a walk with Pearl in an isolated place in the Peninsula. She finds Chillingworth there.

Chapter 14: Hester and the Physician

Hester asks Pearl to go to the water to play there for some time so that she can talk to Chillingworth in isolation. Chillingworth tells her that the magistrates are considering the matter of removing the letter from her dress.

Hester doesn’t seem happy about hearing this, rather she says that the magistrates should not think about taking it off because if she is worthy then the letter itself will fall away someday or will be changed into something else. Chillingworth mocks her by saying it suits her as it is fancy and she should keep on wearing it. Hester realizes that Chillingworth is changed and she can feel evil in his heart but she can’t blame him for it as she knows she is the reason behind this change. 

Hester then talks to him about Dimmesdale and says that she shouldn’t have kept herself silent. It would have been better if Dimmesdale had been punished or publicly shamed for his sin. She begs her to forgive him and not to take revenge from him but Chillingworth refuses by saying that Dimmesdale himself has made things worse for him by forcing Chillingworth to become a monster. It clearly suggests that Chillingworth is determined to take revenge from Dimmesdale.

Chapter 15: Hester and Pearl

Chillingworth starts doing his task again for which he came there. Hester watches him while he collects herbs. Hester thinks that she hates him and it was the worst decision of her life to marry him. On the other hand, Pearl remains busy in playing and dressing up herself like a mermaid using a scarf. She also puts a seaweed A on her chest.

Hester asks her whether she knows what is the meaning of “A” on her mother’s dress. Pearl replies that she knows Dimmesdale always puts his hand on his heart for the same reason. Hester gets shocked. Pearl asks her what does the letter on her dress mean and why Dimmesdale always puts his hand on his heart. Hester refuses to tell her anything.

Chapter 16: The Forest Walk

Hester and Pearl decide to wait for Dimmesdale while he comes back after visiting a sick man. Like other kids, Pearl keeps on asking innocent questions from her mother. She asks Hester about the Black man that she heard from an old lady and is just a superstition that the Black man haunts the forest and everyone who meets him has to write his name in his book in blood. He has written the names of many people in his book and Hester’s letter is the black man’s mark on her. She asks her mother if it is true.

Then Dimmesdale arrives and Pearl asks him the same question whether he puts his hand on his heart because the black man had also put his mark on him and why he doesn’t wear it on his clothes like his mother and hides it. Hester asks her to stay quiet and look at Dimmesdale’s poor condition.

Chapter 17: The Pastor and His Parishioner

After a long time, Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the woods. He holds her hand. They ask each other whether they get peace but both of them disagree. Hester realizes that she shouldn’t keep Chillingworth’s secret so she tells Dimmesdale about Chillingworth’s plan. She tells her that he is not ready to forgive him and he will surely take revenge from him.

They both agree that he will not reveal their secret however he will take revenge in some other way. Dimmesdale decides that he shouldn’t live with Chillingworth under one roof now and he asks her what he should do. Hester suggests him to go to Europe. He refuses to leave the town and go to live in a place where he is all alone.

Chapter 18: A Flood of Sunshine

Dimmesdale gets surprised when Hester tells him that he will not be alone there rather she suggests running away with him. Dimmesdale, however, doesn’t find this idea good because he never thought of ditching his community. He always wanted to serve his community as a minister. After some time he finds it tempting and agrees to do it. They become very happy. Hester even removes the letter from her clothes and throws it down. Everything looks celebrating their freedom. Nature, the sunshine and the birds sing everything seem to bless them. Hester then calls Pearl.

Chapter 19: The Child at the Brook-Side

As Pearl comes to them, she doesn’t recognize her mother without the scarlet letter. Hester and Dimmesdale start discussing how Pearl looks like both of her parents. Pearl doesn’t come near them and keeps standing on the other side of the brook. She feels separated from her mother seeing her with someone else. However, Hester asks her to bring the scarlet letter to her that has fallen on the ground. Pearl refuses to say that get it yourself. Hester decides to wear the letter again until they leave the town. When Pearl sees the letter back on her mother’s dress she runs towards her and kisses her mother.  Dimmesdale bends down to kiss Pearl but she doesn’t seem to like his kiss and runs towards the brook to wash it.

Chapter 20: The Minister in a Maze

Hester comes to know that a ship will sail to Bristol England after four days. Hester meets the captain and the crew of the ship to secure passage for her, Dimmesdale and Pearl. Hester thinks that Dimmesdale has got four days to end his career by delivering his final Election sermon. Hester feels excited but Dimmesdale gets nervous. He seems to regret his decision. He thinks that he has sold his soul to the devil by choosing the path of sin.  However, he works all night to write and prepare his Election Sermon.

Chapter 21: The New England Holiday

Everyone in the town is busy at the celebrations of  Election Sunday. A new Governor takes hold of his office and these celebrations are to welcome him. The whole town seems happy and everyone is gathered. Hester and Pearl are also present there and Hester asks Pearl to see how everyone is celebrating. The commander of the ship comes to meet Hester. He tells her that there is another passenger from their town who is also going to Bristol on the same ship that leaves after four days. Hester gets surprised and tries to figure out who that person is. She becomes really worried when she comes to know that Chillingworth is the person from their town who will accompany them to Bristol.

Chapter 22: The Procession

Everyone in the town including the magistrates and the citizens gather to hear Dimmesdale’s Election Sermon. Dimmesdale looks energetic. Hester feels emotional after listening to the sermon. While Hester is there in Sermon, Pearl plays in the marketplace. The shipmaster gives a message to the little Pearl to take it to Hester. The message says that she doesn’t need to worry now because Chillingworth is bringing Dimmesdale with him on board.

Chapter 23: The Revelation of the Scarlet letter

The Sermon gets over and the music starts again. The procession now moves towards the town hall where a banquet is arranged for them. The condition of Dimmesdale seems terrible.  He moves to the scaffold where Hester and Pearl await him. While they all stand on the scaffold, Chillingworth also comes in threatening Dimmesdale to save himself and let go of the woman and little girl. Dimmesdale starts talking to everyone saying that he should have done this seven years ago. He falls down and while he collapses, he opens his shirt to make the mark on his chest visible to everyone.  Dimmesdale confesses his crime. Pearl kisses him and he dies.

Chapter 24: Conclusion

Chillingworth becomes angry as Dimmesdale escapes his revenge. He also dies a year later leaving all his property for Pearl both in England and the U.S. Using that money Hester and Pearl move to Boston and settle there. No one knows what happened to them after that. One day after many years a tall woman wearing a scarlet letter on her clothes enters the town again and she is Hester. She starts living in her old cottage and resumes her work of charity again.  Pearl got married to a European aristocrat and she often writes letters to Hester. Hester dies and gets buried near the grave of Dimmesdale. The gravestone of both carries a scarlet letter “A” on it.

The Scarlet Letter Characters Analysis

Hester prynne.

She is the protagonist of this novel. A woman who gets married to an old scholar, Roger Chillingworth, before coming to Boston. His husband leaves her alone and never comes back in two years. In her loneliness, she tries to seek love from someone else and commits a serious crime of adultery. The town puts her in the prison along with her illegitimate 3 months old daughter. She doesn’t reveal the identity of her lover in front of the town and gets punished to wear a scarlet letter ” A” on her clothes. Afterwards, she lives in a small cottage with her daughter.

Hester is a devoted mother. She loves her daughter and names her “Pearl” as her daughter is of great importance for her just like a precious and priceless pearl. She works day and night to meet the needs of her daughter. Without any help, she raises her daughter and becomes a famous seamstress. Even the magistrates and other officers of the town get their clothes stitched and embroidered from her.

When she comes to know that the magistrates are talking about taking Pearl away from her, she goes to the Governor’s house to request the Minister not to take her daughter away. The minister tries to snatch Pearl away from her but she begs in front of other magistrates to show mercy. However, she manages to live with her daughter because of Dimmesdale.

Hester proves herself as a strong woman. Initially, people look down upon her considering her a sinner but she struggles and works hard to get her reputation back. She has been nice to all the people for many years and gets successful in winning their trust and love again. People respect her and they even start saying that maybe the letter “A” on her dress means “able” or it means she is sacred and holy.

Though the cruel society tries to oppress her yet she fights back and proves herself as a strong and independent woman. After some years, the magistrates even start thinking about taking the scarlet letter back from her.

Hester is a secret keeper and a loyal lover too. She not only keeps the secret of her lover “Dimmesdale” but also she doesn’t tell anyone about the real identity of her husband “Chillingworth”. She never gets angry or fights with Dimmesdale for not taking her side when the whole town was disrespecting her and asking her to reveal her partner’s name. She suffers everything alone. 

She gets worried about seeing the terrible condition of Dimmesdale. When she finds him hurting himself, she goes to Chillingworth to request him to stop Dimmesdale from doing it. He refuses and tells her that he will take revenge from Dimmesdale. She becomes frightened and meets Dimmesdale in the woods to make him aware of Chillingworth’s evil intentions. She suggests Dimmesdale escape to Europe. With the hope to start a new life with her family, she gets really happy and starts celebrating. Dimmesdale kisses and hugs her. She throws the scarlet letter on the ground and opens her hair to enjoy the moment of happiness.

She talks to the captain of the ship and the crew to secure passage for her family on a ship sailing to Europe after four days. She feels satisfied thinking that four days are enough for Dimmesdale to end his decent career by delivering the final Election sermon. She feels really worried when she comes to know that Chillingworth is also following them to Europe on the same ship. On the day of the sermon, she feels touched by listening to the sermon delivered by Dimmesdale. She goes to the scaffold with Pearl and starts waiting for Dimmesdale. When he arrives, she holds him seeing his terrible condition.

After Dimmesdale’s death, Hester doesn’t lose hope. She moves to Europe with Pearl using the money that Chillingworth left for Pearl after his death. At the end of the novel, Hester returns to her old town after many years. Hester is old now but people of the town recognize her by seeing a scarlet letter on her clothes. Though there is no need of wearing it now, yet she accepts it as her identity and wears it throughout her life. She starts living in her old cottage. Her daughter got married in Europe and she often writes to her. After her death, she is buried near the grave of Dimmesdale. Her gravestone carries the same scarlet letter “A” on it.

Arthur Dimmesdale

Dimmesdale is a well-respected reverend of Boston. He is the lover and the secret partner of Hester Prynne and the father of Pearl. He is respected by all the people of the town and his sermons affect people greatly. Therefore, he gets frightened to carry the burden of his sin that he committed. He doesn’t confess his crime and leaves Hester alone to suffer. However, he realizes his fault soon and regrets what he did. The regret and guilt start affecting his health. Often he is observed putting his hand on his chest as if he is feeling severe pain in his heart. He starts to punish himself secretly by hurting and beating himself and also by starving himself. He realizes that he acted cowardly and selfishly and these are greater sins as compared to adultery.

He doesn’t confess his crime in front of people but he carries the same mark on his chest as Hester’s Scarlet letter. However, It is not clearly mentioned in the novel how he gets a mark there. Maybe he himself created that red mark on his chest by scratching himself out of his guilt and regret. As he never got married so he lives alone and invites Chillingworth to live with him. Chillingworth comes to share his house to take care of him as a physician. Dimmesdale is totally unaware that Chillingworth is Hester’s husband. Chillingworth suspects that Dimmesdale has some part in Hester’s crime and he starts spying. He finds a mark on Dimmesdale’s chest and decides to take revenge from him. Dimmesdale quietly bears his cruelty and torture for seven years without even uttering a single word.

He loves Pearl. Hester and Pearl manage to live together because of him. He asks the magistrates not to take away Pearl from her mother. He often kisses her. When he meets Hester in the woods, they discuss how Pearl resembles both of her parents. Dimmesdale is a very nice man. When Hester suggests him escape to Europe, he disagrees saying that he always wished to serve his life in the service of the town. Hester convinces him by saying that they will start a new life in Europe with their daughter Pearl. At that time, he agrees but later he worries about this decision.

He prepares himself for the final sermon of his life. On Election Sunday, he delivers a great sermon and gets appreciated by the people. After the sermon, he goes to Hester and Pearl who await him on the ship. His guilt doesn’t let him escape like this. He feels terrible and his health seems worse. Chillingworth also follows him on the ship to take his revenge. Dimmesdale confesses his crime in front of people. He tears open his shirt while falling down to show his mark to the people. He admits that he is the father of Pearl and an equal partner in Hester’s sin. After knowing about her father, Pearl kisses him and he dies after it as he couldn’t bear the burden of his sin anymore. However, people forgive him and always remember him in good words.

Roger Chillingworth

Chillingworth is the antagonist of the novel. He is an old scholar. Hester got married to him but he disappeared leaving her alone. He appears in the town after two years as a physician because he has started practicing medicine. He watches Hester and her 3 months old child when she is taken out of the prison in front of the town. Hester also recognizes her. She tries to draw his attention towards her by making her daughter cry but Chillingworth puts his finger on his lips asking her to stay quiet. Later he visits her in the prison. He tries to investigate her about her partner and also asks her to keep his identity secret. She agrees and never tells anyone that Chillingworth is her husband.

His character is transformed into a devil when he comes to know that Dimmesdale is the lover of Hester. He starts living with Dimmesdale as his physician but one day, he finds a mark on Dimmesdale’s chest that confirms his doubt. He decides to take revenge from him. He spends 7 years torturing Dimmesdale for his sin. Though Dimmesdale himself feels guilty of his crime, yet he doesn’t show any mercy. Seeing the terrible condition of Dimmesdale, Hester requests Chillingworth to stop him from hurting himself but he refuses to do that and tells Hester that he will take revenge from Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale considers him a bigger sinner than him and Hester. People even forgive Hester and Dimmesdale but no one forgives Chillingworth for his evil intentions.

At the end of the novel, when Hester and Dimmesdale decide to escape to Europe, he also accompanies them on the ship to take his revenge. Dimmesdale however, dies after confessing his sin that makes Chillingworth mad. He wants to kill him in his revenge but his death escapes his revenge. He starts becoming sick and dies one year later after Dimmesdale’s death leaving all his property for Pearl.

Pearl is the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale. She is only 3 months old when her mother gets punished for adultery.  Hester loves her daughter. She named her “Pearl” because she thinks that her daughter is a priceless pearl. Like her mother,  people of the town also look down upon Pearl. They used to call her the “witch-girl” but in reality, Pearl is a very pretty and intelligent girl.

Pearl is a very smart girl. She often asks her mother about the truth of the scarlet letter and she tells her mother that she thinks Dimmesdale has the same letter on his body because of which he always puts his hand on his chest. When Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the woods, Pearl is only 7 years old but she guesses that there is some secret between them. She also suspects that Dimmesdale is his father. Initially, she doesn’t like Dimmesdale but he cares about her. He once saved her when the magistrates were taking her away from Hester. At the end of the novel, when Dimmesdale admits that he is the father of Pearl, she becomes happy to know about her father and kisses him. 

After the death of Chillingworth, he leaves all his property for Pearl. Pearl becomes the owner of both of his properties in Europe and in the U.S. Using that money Pearl moves to Boston with her mother and settles there. There she gets married to a European aristocrat and starts her own family. She often writes to Hester when she returns back to her old town.

The narrator

The unnamed narrator of this novel works as a surveyor in the Custom House. One day he goes to the attic of the Custom House. He finds the scarlet letter there and some fragments of its story too. He gets inspired to write the story of the Scarlet letter. In the novel, he encourages readers to pay attention to their moral lessons. Throughout the novel, he takes the side of Hester against her Puritan community that punishes her. His writing gives a sense that he is hurt to describe how innocent people fall victim to the oppression of the cruel society.

Themes in the Scarlet Letter

It is the major theme of this novel. Hester has committed the sin of adultery by breaking the moral law and having an extra-marital affair with someone else than her husband. She even carries a child of someone else and refuses to tell her lover’s name. She gets punished for this sin by public shaming and wearing a scarlet letter ” A” for the rest of her life.

Dimmesdale is the partner of Hester in committing the immoral sin of adultery but he commits another sin that is bigger than this one. He refuses to take Hester’s side while the town investigates her about her partner. He even refuses to accept his child publicly.

The theme of sin can also be explored through the character of Chillingworth. As he comes to know about his wife’s sin, he decides to take revenge from Hester and Dimmesdale. His sin is worst of all because Hester and Dimmesdale regret and feel guilty for their sins but Chillingworth doesn’t feel any guilt in seeking revenge. He even follows them on the ship sailing to Europe. He feels really angry when Dimmesdale dies and escapes his revenge.

The sin of some characters is followed by guilt. Hester after having a scarlet letter “A” on her dress, feels really ashamed when people look down upon her but she doesn’t hide from people rather she becomes a very good seamstress. She works hard to change her public image. People start respecting her and some of them even start saying that the letter “A” on Hester’s dress means “able” or it means that Hester is sacred and holy.

Dimmesdale also feels guilty. In his guilt, he starts feeling sick. His condition becomes terrible. Often he is observed putting his hand on his chest as if he is feeling severe pain in his heart. He couldn’t confess his sin, so he started punishing himself. He hurts himself and tortures himself cruelly. He spends many nights crying and hurting himself out of his house. At the end of the novel, he couldn’t bear the burden of his sin and in his guilt, he tears open his shirt to show people the same scarlet letter on his chest and to tell them that he is the partner in Hester’s crime. After confessing his crime in front of people, he dies.

Wisdom through suffering

The character of Hester and Dimmesdale learn from their sin. They gain wisdom through their suffering. Hester finally gets successful in building her positive image in front of people. She realizes her sin so she suffers a lot to change her position in the town. Later people start respecting her. 

Dimmesdale also gets wisdom from his sufferings. He finally realizes that he can’t live with a lie. So he confesses his sin in front of people and dies peacefully.


Though Hester performs an immoral act of adultery and breaks the moral laws, yet she gets forgiveness from the town. The people understand that she doesn’t perform the sin because of the evilness of her character but because of her loneliness and the need for love.

However, no one forgives Chillingworth as he tortures Dimmesdale and he proves himself evil by taking revenge.

It is one of the central themes of this novel. The urge of taking revenge transforms Chillingworth into a devil. He becomes the physician of Dimmesdale to cure him but in reality, he keeps on torturing him for seven years. Though Dimmesdale feels guilty of his crime and he spends nights out of his house punishing himself, yet Chillingworth doesn’t show kindness towards him. The purpose of Chillingworth’s life to take revenge from Dimmesdale also dies with him. The death of Chillingworth after one year clearly shows that his urge for revenge is the reason behind his premature death.

Suffering and pain

The theme of pain and suffering is found throughout the novel. Hester suffers a lot because of committing a sin. Her husband left her alone for many years. She finds another person to share her love and to get rid of her loneliness. She even carries his child too but the town puts her in jail along with her 3 years old child. She remains quiet and doesn’t tell anyone about her partner. However, she tries hard to meet the needs of her baby alone. During this time, she suffers from many financial and mental problems.

Dimmesdale on the other hand also suffers because of his guilt. He becomes sick and gets punished by hurting himself. Chillingworth keeps on torturing him for seven years and he ends up dying with this regret. Moreover, Chillingworth also suffers because of his urge to take revenge. When he fails to complete his revenge, he gets mentally upset and he dies one year later after Dimmesdale’s death.

The character of Hester becomes a secret keeper of two men. She doesn’t tell anyone about her secret lover nor she tells that Chillingworth is her husband. A woman is a weak creature as compared to man but Hester stands by her lover and tries to save him from the revenge of Chillingworth. She decides to escape to Europe with him to live a peaceful life there.

Women Independence

After coming out of the prison, Hester decides to get independent for herself and her daughter. Though Hester lives alone with her daughter in a small cottage yet she doesn’t lose hope and instead of begging someone else, she works hard to earn a livelihood and to feed herself and her daughter. Without the help of any male, she raises her daughter alone. She becomes a seamstress and gets very famous because of her embroidery. Even the magistrates and other officers of the town get their clothes stitched and embroidered from her. The writer has portrayed the independence of women in Puritan society through the character of Hester. 

The theme of love can be explored through the character of Hester. She loves her daughter Pearl and begs to the magistrates for not taking her daughter away from her. She takes care of her and works hard to meet her needs.

On the other hand, she loves her partner too. She becomes seriously worried about seeing the terrible condition of Dimmesdale. She requests Chillingworth to stop Dimmesdale from punishing himself but he refuses. Later she meets Dimmesdale in the woods. He kisses her hand and hugs her after a long time. She suggests him to escape to Europe. When he agrees, both of them become very happy and start celebrating. She even throws her scarlet letter on the ground feeling free from all the problems of the world.

Justice and Judgement

As Hester commits a serious sin of adultery, she gets punished to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothes for the rest of her life. After some years, the magistrates discuss the matter of taking the letter back from Hester as they feel she is guilty of committing this sin and has changed now. They try to bring justice to Hester but she refuses to give her letter back as she has accepted it as her fate now. 

On the other hand, Chillingworth tries to take revenge from Dimmesdale but nature does justice to him. Dimmesdale dies a natural death after confessing his crime while Chillingworth dies one year later because he couldn’t bear his failure of taking revenge.

The Scarlet Letter Analysis

“The Scarlet letter” throws light on an important issue of our society through the character of Hester. No one is truly pure and mistakes are the part of life. Through this novel, the writer enables the readers to see the fact that there are many people in our society who commit sins but there is nothing in this world that the true redemption can’t fix. 

The novel also portrays how some people in society are apparently respectable but often, in reality, they are the most depraved ones. On the other hand, sometimes the people whom everyone calls sinners are actually pious and virtuous. The novel also tells the readers that God forgives a sinner but a human being never forgets and never forgives. He keeps on reminding the sins and tortures throughout life even if the person himself regrets it and also seeks forgiveness.

Technically more than any other literary work, “The Scarlet letter” effectively encloses the rise of individualism and self-reliance from the conformist and Puritan society of America. The novel also talks about the effects of social oppression and the psychological repression on the life of the characters. 

Title of the Novel

The protagonist of the novel commits the sin of adultery because of which she gets punished to wear the letter “A” that is of scarlet colour and that “A” refers to the sin of adultery. When Hester is taken out of prison, people get shocked to see how beautifully she has embroidered her scarlet letter. Some people suggest that the scarlet letter should not be on her clothes as it could be easily hidden. Some suggest that the letter “A” should be burned onto her forehead so that it gets easily visible to everyone.

The title of the novel plays a significant role in Hester’s life. Hester Prynne regrets her sin but she never gets disgusted because of her letter. The scarlet letter becomes a permanent part of her personality. People even start looking at it with a changed mind. Instead of adultery, people consider it a holy and sacred symbol. After many years, when the old Hester returns to her town, she wears the same scarlet letter. Even after death, her gravestone also carries the same scarlet letter. So instead of a symbol of shame, Hester turns her scarlet letter into her pride. 

Setting of the Novel

The novel is set in Massachusetts Bay Colony. It took place between the years 1642 to 1649. It is set in the Puritan society, a community that is specially designed by the writer to be religiously strict and pure. In the first chapter, the writer gives us the view of all the important places and buildings of the town including the prison and the scaffold. The readers discover that the religion and the law are the bases of this town.

Apart from all the buildings and the prisons of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the town is also surrounded by the vast forest and the ocean. 

Surrounded by them, the town appears to be like an island. Outside the town, nature can be felt in abundance and the people of town get many herbs from the forests to make their medicines. 

Genre of the Novel

Historical, gothic and romance.

The novel is historical as it tells us about the history of early Americans or the Puritans. After reading the novel, we come to know about their ways of living, their religious rituals and their laws and customs. As a character commits the sin of adultery, she gets strict punishment for it. It was the system of Puritans in history and now modern Americans don’t consider it a sin at all. 

Some elements of this novel make it a Gothic fiction. The deaths of some characters and the story of the black man arouse fear among them. Moreover, it is a Romance too, as the love of Hester and Dimmesdale sets an example at the end of the novel. The little “Pearl” is considered as a product of their love and not their sin at the end of the story. 

Ending of the Novel

The ending of the novel is quite impressive. Dimmesdale, who throughout the novel suffers because of the burden of his sin and his failure to confess his crime, finally admits it in front of people by tearing his shirt so that the mark on his chest becomes visible to everyone. After that, he dies a peaceful death.

On the other hand, Chillingworth also dies a premature death because of his evil intentions. As he fails to achieve his revenge from Dimmesdale because of his death, he starts getting mad. This failure affects his health badly. He gets sick and dies one year later after Dimmesdale’s death. Throughout his life, he didn’t do anything for his wife but after his death, all his property gets transferred to Pearl. Using that money, the mother and daughter move to Europe and start a new life there.

Furthermore, Hester finally realizes that the scarlet letter is not a shame for her but actually a part of her identity.  She lives a peaceful life with her daughter in Europe. Her daughter gets married to an aristocrat and has started her family. She returns to her old town and dies there. She gets buried near the grave of her lover, Dimmesdale.

Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

Hester names her daughter as “Pearl” because she is just as precious for Hester as a pearl. Hester suffers a lot just because of carrying an illegitimate child. She loses her reputation in the village and everyone looks down upon her but she truly loves her daughter and takes care of her. The name “Pearl” hence is a symbol that shows how precious the girl is for her mother and she pays a heavy price to own her daughter. Secondly, after Chillingworth’s death, he leaves his both properties of Europe and of the U.S for Pearl and hence she becomes the youngest rich girl of the town.

The symbolism in the scarlet letter changes throughout the novel. Initially, Hester wears it on her clothes as a symbol of sin. It symbolizes “Adultery”. Hester works day and night and after some years she regains her respect and reputation in the town and gets successful to change the meaning of the scarlet letter. Many people start discussing that the scarlet letter “A” means “able” because Hester is talented and capable of doing wonders. Others suggest that it symbolizes the holiness and sacredness of Hester’s character.

Hester sews this letter herself in prison. She does fine embroidery on it. Everyone gets attracted to it when Hester comes out of the prison door. By making it look beautiful and attractive, Hester controls her punishment. After many years, when Hester returns to her old town, she wears the same letter though it is not needed now. It symbolizes that the scarlet letter becomes a symbol of pride and grace for Hester. It becomes a part of her identity and even this letter is written on her gravestone after her death.

The Rose Bush on one side of the Prison door

The beautiful rose bush grows on one side of the prison door. The people of the town believe that the rose bush grew when Ann Hutchinson entered that prison door. Ann Hutchinson was a person who got punished because he gave a statement that people should focus on their individual relations with god instead of following their minister’s orders. The people of the town consider the rose bush as a blessing for the criminals who enter this door. So the rosebush symbolizes hope. 

The Red Mark on Dimmesdale’s Chest   

The scarlet letter of Hester gets sewed on her clothes while it is not clearly mentioned in the novel how Dimmesdale gets a similar mark on his chest. He says that it is from God.  Maybe he scratched his body to make “A” similar to that of Hester’s, as he regrets not standing by her side when the whole town stood against her. However, it symbolizes the physical appearance of his sin.

The Black Man

When Hester and Pearl go to the woods, Pearl asks her mother about the story of the Black man that she heard from an old lady in the town. It was famous that the black man is found in the woods and whoever meets him, he writes his name on his book. People also tell Pearl that the scarlet letter is a mark of the Black man on Hester’s clothes. Pearl asks her mother whether the black man also left his mark on Dimmesdale’s heart that’s why he always puts his hand on his chest. The black man in the novel is an imaginary character but it symbolizes “evil” and “wickedness”. The black man is also a word used for Satan. In the novel, the character of Chillingworth proves himself as a devil or the black man that leaves his mark on Hester and Dimmesdale. 

The names of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth   

Their names are also symbolic. Dimmesdale’s name suggests his bad luck and it symbolizes that the character of Dimmesdale is going to face decline as the word “dim” means dull or gloomy. It becomes a symbol of doom for him. On the other hand, the word “chilling” means cold. When Chillingworth sees his wife standing with her child in front of the jury, he doesn’t show any feeling or concern. His name symbolizes his cold-hearted and loveless nature.

The allusions are the references in the works of Literature to the famous events that happened in history. The scarlet letter has some biblical allusions in it. As this novel is a story of sin and redemption, it is a biblical allusion to the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve committed a sin that was strictly forbidden by God then as a punishment they were asked to leave heaven and sent to Earth to suffer. They lost their supreme position and the reputation that they had in heaven. Just like them, Hester and Dimmesdale in the novel, commit an immoral sin because of which they lose their respect and reputation. They get punished for their deed. Hester is punished by the town while Dimmesdale gets punished by his own self.

Moreover, in the novel, the character of Roger Chillingworth is often compared to the black man. The black man is also a Biblical allusion. It refers to “Satan”. The evil character of Chillingworth, his bad intentions and his urge to take revenge from Dimmesdale makes him more like Satan.

More From Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Literature Notes
  • The Scarlet Letter at a Glance
  • Book Summary
  • About The Scarlet Letter
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • The Custom-House
  • Character Analysis
  • Hester Prynne
  • Arthur Dimmesdale
  • Roger Chillingworth
  • Character Map
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography
  • Critical Essays
  • Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
  • The Puritan Setting of The Scarlet Letter
  • The Scarlet Letter as a Gothic Romance
  • The Structure of The Scarlet Letter
  • Famous Quotes from The Scarlet Letter
  • Film Versions of The Scarlet Letter
  • Full Glossary for The Scarlet Letter
  • Essay Questions
  • Practice Projects
  • Cite this Literature Note

Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

In this first chapter, Hawthorne sets the scene of the novel — Boston of the seventeenth century. It is June, and a throng of drably dressed Puritans stands before a weather-beaten wooden prison. In front of the prison stands an unsightly plot of weeds, and beside it grows a wild rosebush, which seems out of place in this scene dominated by dark colors.

In this chapter, Hawthorne sets the mood for the "tale of human frailty and sorrow" that is to follow. His first paragraph introduces the reader to what some might want to consider a (or the ) major character of the work: the Puritan society. What happens to each of the major characters — Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth — results from the collective ethics, morals, psyche, and unwavering sternness and rigidity of the individual Puritans, whom Hawthorne introduces figuratively in this chapter and literally and individually in the next.

Dominating this chapter are the decay and ugliness of the physical setting, which symbolize the Puritan society and culture and foreshadow the gloom of the novel. The two landmarks mentioned, the prison and the cemetery, point not only to the "practical necessities" of the society, but also to the images of punishment and providence that dominate this culture and permeate the entire story.

The rosebush, its beauty a striking contrast to all that surrounds it — as later the beautifully embroidered scarlet A will be — is held out in part as an invitation to find "some sweet moral blossom" in the ensuing, tragic tale and in part as an image that "the deep heart of nature" (perhaps God) may look more kindly on the errant Hester and her child (the roses among the weeds) than do her Puritan neighbors. Throughout the work, the nature images contrast with the stark darkness of the Puritans and their systems.

Hawthorne makes special note that this colony earlier set aside land for both a cemetery and a prison, a sign that all societies, regardless of their good intentions, eventually succumb to the realities of man's nature (sinful/punishment/prison) and destiny (mortal/death/cemetery). In those societies in which the church and state are the same, when man breaks the law, he also sins. From Adam and Eve on, man's inability to obey the rules of the society has been his downfall.

The Puritan society is symbolized in the first chapter by the plot of weeds growing so profusely in front of the prison. Nevertheless, nature also includes things of beauty, represented by the wild rosebush. The rosebush is a strong image developed by Hawthorne which, to the sophisticated reader, may sum up the whole work. First it is wild; that is, it is of nature, God given, or springing from the "footsteps of the sainted Anne Hutchinson." Second, according to the author, it is beautiful — offering "fragrant and fragile beauty to the prisoner" — in a field of "unsightly vegetation." Third, it is a "token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to" the prisoner entering the structure or the "condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom." Finally, it is a predominant image throughout the romance. Much the same sort of descriptive analyses that can be written about the rosebush could be ascribed to the scarlet letter itself or to little Pearl or, perhaps, even to the act of love that produced them both.

Finally, the author points toward many of the images that are significant to an understanding of the novel. In this instance, he names the chapter "The Prison Door." The reader needs to pay particular attention to the significance of the prison generally and the prison door specifically. The descriptive language in reference to the prison door — ". . . heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes" and the "rust on the ponderous iron-work . . . looked more antique than anything else in the New World" and, again, ". . . seemed never to have known a youthful era" — foreshadows and sets the tone for the tale that follows.

Cornhill part of Washington Street. Now part of City Hall Plaza.

Isaac Johnson a settler (1601-1630) who left land to Boston; he died shortly after the Puritans arrived. His land would be north of King's Chapel (1688), which can be visited today.

burdock any of several plants with large basal leaves and purple-flowered heads covered with hooked prickles.

pigweed any of several coarse weeds with dense, bristly clusters of small green flowers. Also called lamb's quarters.

apple-peru a plant that is part of the nightshade family; poisonous.

portal here, the prison door.

Anne Hutchinson a religious dissenter (1591-1643). In the 1630s she was excommunicated by the Puritans and exiled from Boston and moved to Rhode Island.

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the scarlet letter summary in one sentence

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel hawthorne, everything you need for every book you read..

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  1. The Scarlet Letter Plot Diagram and Summary Storyboard

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  3. The Scarlet Letter Summary by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Full Book in JUST 3

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  4. The Scarlet Letter Chapter 19 Summary

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  5. 💌 Main character of scarlet letter. The Importance Of Main Characters

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  6. The Scarlet Letter

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  1. The Scarlet Letter Part 1

  2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (in hindi) || MEG-06 || American Novel ||

  3. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

  4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

  5. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Chapter 14 Summary & Analysis

  6. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis


  1. The Scarlet Letter: Full Book Summary

    The Scarlet Letter is the final product. The story begins in seventeenth-century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. A young woman, Hester Prynne, is led from the town prison with her infant daughter, Pearl, in her arms and the scarlet letter "A" on her breast. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for ...

  2. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Plot Summary

    The Scarlet Letter Summary. The Scarlet Letter begins with a prelude in which an unnamed narrator explains the novel's origin. While working at the Salem Custom House (a tax collection agency), the narrator discovered in the attic a manuscript accompanied by a beautiful scarlet letter "A." After the narrator lost his job, he decided to develop ...

  3. The Scarlet Letter Summary and Analysis

    Short Summary: The Scarlet Letter is a novel providing a view of Puritan society in the 17th century. The story takes place in Boston, following young Hester Prynne and her life as an outcast having been caught committing adultery when she gives birth to a daughter. Her husband had sent her to Boston from Europe, planning to follow her.

  4. The Scarlet Letter

    The Scarlet Letter, novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850.It is considered a masterpiece of American literature and a classic moral study.. Summary. The novel is set in a village in Puritan New England.The main character is Hester Prynne, a young woman who has borne a child out of wedlock.Hester believes herself a widow, but her husband, Roger Chillingworth, arrives in New England ...

  5. The Scarlet Letter Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

    He then plucks one of the rose blossoms and offers it to the reader. He describes the gesture and the blossom as a symbol of the moral that the reader might learn in reading his "tale of human frailty and sorrow." The Scarlet Letter's moral is that people must accept and forgive their own and other people's worst qualities.

  6. 'The Scarlet Letter' Plot Summary

    The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne set in Boston, then the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in the mid-17 th century (about fifty years before the nearby Salem Witch Trials).It tells the story of the relationship between the Puritan community and Hester Prynne, the protagonist, after it is discovered that she bore a child out of wedlock—an act that cuts against society's ...

  7. Book Summary

    Book Summary. In June 1642, in the Puritan town of Boston, a crowd gathers to witness an official punishment. A young woman, Hester Prynne, has been found guilty of adultery and must wear a scarlet A on her dress as a sign of shame. Furthermore, she must stand on the scaffold for three hours, exposed to public humiliation.

  8. The Scarlet Letter Summary

    The Scarlet Letter Summary. Hester is being led to the scaffold, where she is to be publicly shamed for having committed adultery. Hester is forced to wear the letter A on her gown at all times. She has stitched a large scarlet A onto her dress with gold thread, giving the letter an air of elegance. Hester carries Pearl, her daughter, with her.

  9. The Scarlet Letter Plot Summary

    One faithful day, just after dusk, disturbed by his sick conscience, Dimmesdale moves up the platform and, shortly, is joined by Hester and Pearl. Only then, Chillingworth lurks in the shadows observing them. But his hiding is exposed as a meteorite sparkles through the night sky to reveal his presence. What follows next is an exchange of feelings.

  10. The Scarlet Letter Summary and Study Guide

    The Scarlet Letter is an 1850 novel by writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The work, Hawthorne's first full-length novel, is a classic of the American Romantic era. More specifically, its treatment of topics like sin, insanity, and the occult make it a work of Dark Romanticism—a movement related to the Gothic genre that includes works by Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville.

  11. The Scarlet Letter Summary and Analysis

    The Scarlet Letter Summary Preface: The Custom House. The Scarlet letter opens with a long preface about how this book was written. The anonymous narrator of this novel worked as a surveyor of the Custom-house. The custom-house is a building where import and export goods are documented by the people. It was in Salem, Massachusetts.

  12. The Scarlet Letter: Study Guide

    Overview. Nathaniel Hawthorne 's The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, is a classic novel set in Puritanical 17th-century Massachusetts. The narrative revolves around Hester Prynne, a woman who is condemned by her community for committing adultery and forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her chest as a symbol of her sin.

  13. The Scarlet Letter

    Summary. In this first chapter, Hawthorne sets the scene of the novel — Boston of the seventeenth century. It is June, and a throng of drably dressed Puritans stands before a weather-beaten wooden prison. In front of the prison stands an unsightly plot of weeds, and beside it grows a wild rosebush, which seems out of place in this scene ...

  14. The Scarlet Letter Summary

    The Scarlet Letter Summary. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. chapters. 1-3. 4-6. 7-9. 10-12. Although introductions are usually short notes that help readers understand the background of the novel, the introduction of The Scarlet letter is rather long, explaining thoroughly how the book came to be written.

  15. The Scarlet Letter Chapter Summaries

    Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis. PDF Cite Share. The Scarlet Letter opens with a description of the prison in which Hester has been incarcerated for adultery. This prison is an ugly, necessary ...

  16. The Scarlet Letter Chapters 1-4 Summary and Analysis

    Analysis. This chapter marks the second interrogation of Hester, and it foreshadows key moments of the novel. In addition, Roger Chillingworth's relationship to Hester, namely, the fact that they are married, is revealed here. There are two moments of foreshadowing during this chapter which require further analysis.

  17. The Scarlet Letter Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

    Analysis. Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest and hold hands. Dimmesdale says life with a scarlet letter would be preferable to his life of deception, since Hester is the only person with whom he can be himself. The rest is emptiness, falsehood, and death. Dimmesdale knows that his secret sin and the split identity it creates in him is ...

  18. The Scarlet Letter Themes and Analysis

    Sin and Punishment. These are probably the two most obvious themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's ' The Scarlet Letter ' and they are very clearly executed throughout the pages of the book - beginning from the first chapter. Hester Prynne, who is the heroine of the book, is one of the characters who bear such guilts of sin and punishment.

  19. The Scarlet Letter Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

    Analysis. The crowd outside the prison grows restless waiting for Hester Prynne to appear. The faces in the crowd are grim, yet familiar, since Puritans gathered often to watch criminals be punished. The narrator says that the Puritans considered religion and law to be almost identical.

  20. Chapter 1: "The Prison-Door"

    The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern ...

  21. The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

    Analysis. Suddenly as Hester looks out into the crowd she recognizes Roger Chillingworth, her husband, standing beside an Indian at the edge of the crowd. She clutches her baby in alarm. It cries out in protest. The person who should most comfort Hester (her husband) makes her feel uneasy and alone.