Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Hester Prynne, an attractive young woman living among the Puritans of Boston during the 1650’s. She becomes a martyr because she, presumably a widow, bears a child out of wedlock; this sin results in her being jailed and then publicly exhibited on a pillory for three hours. After she is released from jail, she must wear for a lifetime a scarlet “A” upon her bosom. She becomes a seamstress, stitching and embroidering to earn a living for herself and for Pearl, her child. After her one act of sin, Hester behaves with such uncanny rectitude that she seems an American Jeanne d’Arc, battling not against opposing armies and bigotry but against bigotry alone, the most formidable of antagonists. Hester refuses to name the child’s father, who is the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, her minister; she does not quail when her supposedly dead husband, Roger Chillingworth, comes from out of the forest to witness her appearance on the pillory; and without complaint or self-pity, she fights her way back to respectability and the rights of motherhood. Her situation is made more poignant and heroic by Dimmesdale’s lack of sufficient moral courage to confess that he is Pearl’s father. Hester seems to need no partner to share her guilt. Tragedy befalls her when Dimmesdale dies, but the reader feels that Hester will stoutly and resolutely make her way through life.
The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
The Reverend Arthur...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Scarlet Letter Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
At the center of Hawthorne's story is the figure of the adulteress Hester Prynne. A young woman sent alone to America by a husband much older than herself and not able to respond to her emotional needs, she is made the object of public scorn when she becomes pregnant, has a child, and refuses to name the father. Hawthorne presents her as a strong figure who is able to tolerate the prejudices of her fellow townspeople, turning her symbol of shame into a badge of honor. Unlike her secret lover, the minister Roger Dimmesdale, she is willing to admit to her actions, acknowledging that her adultery is wrong in the eyes of society, but convinced that she is not totally to blame for giving in to her feelings. Ironically, she becomes a person of great goodness and charity within the community, and her neighbors eventually soften their criticism of her as a result.
Dimmesdale, on the other hand, is a man suffering the anguish of multiple sins. Although deeply in love with Hester, he is ashamed of living a lie. Revered as a saint by his congregation, he agonizes in private over his sin. Unable to admit that he is Hester's lover, he withers away from the torments of conscience. His behavior attracts the attention of Chillingworth, who senses that the minister hides a dark secret in his bosom. Only gradually does Dimmesdale gain the strength he needs to confront society with the truth; tragically, however, the ordeal of public exposure and confession leads not to...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Governor Bellingham represents an actual person, Richard Bellingham, who came to America in 1634 and was elected as governor of the English colony in 1641, 1654, and 1655. When not acting as governor, he still held positions of power as magistrate or deputy governor. In the novel his character demonstrates that in the colony, as the narrator states in chapter two, "religion and law were almost identical." Bellingham is described as a "stern magistrate," who, in chapter eight, is convinced that Pearl should be taken from her mother in order to receive a proper moral upbringing, until Dimmesdale persuades him that the union of Pearl and Hester is a part of God's design.
Roger Chillingworth is the alias of Hester's husband. The two were married in England and moved together to Amsterdam before Hester preceded Chillingworth to America. Chillingworth is a man devoted to knowledge. His outward physical deformity (a hunchback) is symbolic of his devotion to deep, as opposed to superficial, knowledge. His lifelong study of apothecary and the healing arts, first in Europe and later among the Indians of America, is a sincere benevolent exercise until he discovers his wife's infidelity, whereupon he turns his skills toward the evil of revenge.
Chillingworth is introduced near the very start of the narrative, where he discovers Hester upon the scaffold with Pearl, the...
(The entire section is 1414 words.)