The Scarlet Letter Summary

The Scarlet Letter summary

The Scarlet Letter begins in 1642, when Hester Prynne stands on a Boston scaffold with her daughter, Pearl. Hester wears the red letter A that marks an adulteress. She refuses to confess the name of her child’s father.

The Scarlet Letter summary key points:

  • The husband she believed to be dead appears in town and says if she keeps his identity secret he won’t force her to reveal the identity of her child’s father.

  • Hester lives with her daughter Pearl at the edge of town while her husband, calling himself Dr. Roger Chillingworth, moves in with the much-loved Reverend Dimmesdale.

  • Recognizing Dimmesdale as Hester’s one-time lover, Chillingworth torments the guilt-stricken man until Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold and confesses his affair before dying in Hester’s arms.

  • Chillingworth dies shortly thereafter and Hester leaves, but returns many years later still wearing the scarlet letter. She is eventually buried next to Dimmesdale.


The year is 1642. Hester Prynne, a young wife whose husband has been missing for over a year, is accused of adultery following the birth of her infant daughter Pearl. In a shameful public ceremony, Hester is forced to stand on a scaffold for more than three hours and submit to an interrogation. She refuses to reveal the name of her child's father, which angers the Puritanical citizens of Boston. She is forced to wear a scarlet-colored A on her clothes to mark her as an adulteress.

While on the scaffold, Hester sees her husband, Mr. Prynne, a physician who has just now returned to Boston. Following the interrogation, Hester and Prynne meet in private, where the two apologize for their respective offenses (Hester for her adultery and Prynne for his long absence, as well as for marrying such a young, vital woman—and at his age). Prynne was suspected of having been killed by Native Americans and thus was not recognized by anyone but Hester. He makes her promise not to reveal his true identity and assumes the name Roger Chillingworth.

Following her ordeal on the scaffold, Boston's officials decide to release Hester from prison. She is then allowed to build a business as a seamstress—a role in which she thrives, despite the contempt, condescension, and verbal abuse she suffers at the hands of her neighbors and patrons. Meanwhile, her daughter, Pearl, grows from an infant to a lovely, vibrant, peculiar little girl. Hester wonders at Pearl's strange mannerisms, suspecting that her daughter might be some sort of elf-child.

While delivering an order of gloves to the Governor's house, Hester speaks to the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a young, sickly minister who exhorted Hester to reveal the name of the father during her interrogation on the scaffold. Later, it will be revealed that Dimmesdale himself is the father. In this scene, however, Hester is the only other person who knows this, and Pearl speaks to her father, unaware of his true identity. He, the Governor, and Chillingworth all question Hester's ability to be a good role model for Pearl. She bears these criticisms well.

Chillingworth moves in with Dimmesdale under the pretense of being the minister's doctor. In fact, Chillingworth wants to ferret out Pearl's father and has reason to suspect that Dimmesdale might be the culprit. One day, when Dimmesdale falls asleep in his chair, Chillingworth opens the minister's shirt, revealing his chest, which the Reverend has been hiding from the doctor. Though the narrator doesn't say so, the minister has been carving an A into his chest, marking himself an adulterer. The doctor sees the wound, but chooses not to treat it.

Though Dimmesdale doesn't know what Chillingworth has done (or refrained from doing), he feels a mounting discomfort around the doctor and grows to hate him. He confesses this to Hester, who's unable to reveal Chillingworth's true identity due to her oath. In the years since her public shaming, Hester's beauty has faded, the scarlet A having imposed upon her an austere life that stripped her of her great vitality. She wishes Chillingworth would exact his revenge on her instead of Dimmesdale. In effect, she wants to bear the burden of the scarlet letter alone.

Pearl fashions a green letter A out of grass. Intuitively, the girl understands that Hester wears the A for the same reason that Dimmesdale places his hand over his heart. Hester doesn't put two and two together, however, and when she and Pearl meet the Reverend on a path, her thoughts are not of his health but of Chillingworth's perfidy. Hester convinces Dimmesdale to run away with her and Pearl so that they can start over together as a family. He doesn't know how to be a father, but is so caught up in the moment that he has hope for the future.

Later, however, Dimmesdale thinks himself into believing that Hester has tempted him into sin. He rethinks their plan, which, unfortunately, cannot be put into action for four days, when the boat that will take them away from Boston departs. In the meantime, Dimmesdale's guilt drives him to climb the scaffold at night and reveal his chest, as if to tell all Boston the truth. Hester and Chillingworth, however, are the only ones who see him, and they take Dimmesdale home to rest.

The Reverend delivers a moving sermon that week, following which he reveals the scarlet letter on his chest. Without treatment, this wound has become infected. This infection has been draining the minister's health, so that when he finally admits his crime, he dies in Hester's arms. She hopes that they will meet again in Heaven and live out eternity together. In the wake of the minister's death, a purposeless Chillingworth shrivels up and dies, and Hester, heartbroken over her loss, leaves town with Pearl. Chillingworth's estate makes Pearl rich, and she never returns to Boston. Hester, on the other hand, returns years later and lives the rest of her days bearing the mark of the scarlet letter.

The Scarlet Letter Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Scarlet Letter was Hawthorne’s most commercially successful work and is still regarded as his masterpiece. The entire novel is built on the five simple words contained in one of the biblical Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The fact that Hawthorne was able to base such an enduring work on such a simple premise is an indication of genius.

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy did much the same thing in his novel Anna Karenina (1875-1877) some quarter of a century later, and no doubt he was influenced by Hawthorne’s example. Another prominent Russian writer, Anton Chekhov, in “The Lady with a Pet Dog” (1899), emulated Hawthorne’s very modern treatment of the psychological turmoil arising from adultery. Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy (1925) deals with a similar theme.

Most people in Hawthorne’s day had orthodox notions of religion, based on the Bible. They thought of God as a bearded super-patriarch living up above the clouds who was somehow able to see everything that was happening on Earth and was keeping a record of everyone’s sins with the intention of punishing them in the afterlife. Hawthorne and his intellectual contemporaries no longer believed in Heaven and Hell, or angels and devils, because modern science was rapidly undermining the authority of the Bible.

This did not by any means imply that Hawthorne rejected traditional morality. He realized that it was the basis of civilization and wanted to place morality on a foundation of reason. The Scarlet Letter shows people being punished for their sins in the here and now through the operation of natural cause and effect. The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is punished by his own feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame. Long before the time of Sigmund Freud, Hawthorne showed how mental problems create physical ailments. Dimmesdale eventually dies of guilt, although his mind is relieved by his public confession.

Hawthorne’s novel was a financial success. No doubt it was popular because it dealt with sexual matters, although in a heavily veiled manner. Much has been made of Hawthorne’s use of symbolism; however, it may be that he employed it mainly because he was not able to describe certain things more explicitly. For example, the sin of adultery means sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse. It was utterly impossible for Hawthorne to depict this graphically in his day; his book would never even have been published if he had mentioned such an act.

His solution was ingenious: Hester Prynne gives birth to a little girl who is living proof of the sin. So Pearl, her daughter, is a symbol of the act of adultery. Hawthorne also calls Pearl “a living hieroglyphic,” which simply means that as she gets older it should be possible to “read” her father’s identity from studying her facial features. Thus she is not only a symbol of adultery and a symbol of guilt but also a symbol of Dimmesdale’s craven fear of exposure.

The scarlet letter “A,” which Hester is condemned to wear over her breast, is another symbol of unlawful sexual intercourse. In a sense it might be described as a fetish: an object that arouses sexual desire, or at least sexual thoughts. Modern readers accustomed to explicit descriptions of sexuality would hardly find Hawthorne’s novel titillating, but the mere suggestion of unsanctioned sexual intercourse—or, indeed, any sexual behavior at all—was daring for Hawthorne’s time.

Like the minister’s black veil in the story of that name, Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter has a dual nature. It is a continuing accusation directed at all the members of the community: It suggests that all of them should be wearing their own letters over their breasts, although not all of them would wear the same letter. The fact that Hester’s letter “A” is ornate, like the letters in a book from which a child learns the alphabet, and the fact that her little daughter is constantly touching it and trying to understand its meaning, suggest that there is a whole alphabet of sins that could be attached to the gowns and shirt fronts of the other citizens.

Dimmesdale deserves more than one letter: He could wear a “C” for cowardice, an “H” for hypocrisy, or an “L” for lying. The novel implicitly refers to the famous incident in the New Testament in which a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus. Jesus was asked if it was permissible to stone her to death as prescribed by Mosaic law. Jesus replied: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Everyone in the mob withdrew in silent admission of his or her own hidden guilt.

Hawthorne created the character of Roger Chillingworth because an antagonist was needed to move the plot along. One of Hawthorne’s weaknesses as a fiction writer was that he tended to lavish his attention on visual elements, such as descriptions of landscapes, and to avoid heated interactions between his characters. This weakness may be attributed to Hawthorne’s shy and passive character. Static plots with heavy emphasis on visual description might suffice for short works, but a full-length novel needs an ongoing conflict to retain reader interest. Chillingworth’s behavior is strange; why does he not kill Dimmesdale, for example, if he feels so outraged? He could certainly denounce him to the whole community, which might even be worse. It is only because of Chillingworth’s odd notion of revenge that the novel is able to move forward to its conclusion.

It is hard to see exactly what Chillingworth is trying to accomplish by his sadistic treatment of Dimmesdale; although he is indispensable to the plot, he is the least believable of all the characters. This seems like an artistic flaw in the novel, yet Hawthorne is masterful in demonstrating how human sins are not punished in some hypothetical afterlife but in the here and now through the suffering they bring. A sensitive man such as Dimmesdale must suffer for the suffering he causes others, and an insensitive man such as Chillingworth blinds himself to the harm he causes and is condemned to go through life as a blind man.

The Scarlet Letter Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Scarlet Letter, long considered Nathaniel Hawthorne’s greatest novel, is a complex investigation of the effects of secrecy and guilt. Set in seventeenth century Boston, the novel follows the life of Hester Prynne, a Puritan woman convicted of adultery and forced to wear a red patch, the letter A, as part of her punishment. Hawthorne’s sympathetic depiction of Hester’s struggle with this restrictive self-image is largely responsible for the book’s status as an American classic.

After her emergence from Boston prison at the book’s beginning, Hester faces a number of obstacles as she tries to reestablish herself in the restrictive Puritan community. The town has labeled her a sinner, so she must first find a way to challenge the community’s perception of her and her daughter, Pearl, the child and the proof of her “guilty passion.” Her talent for sewing and embroidery becomes her primary medium for self-expression. Not only does she decorate the letter she has been forced to wear, but also she dresses Pearl in beautiful, elaborate clothes in order to counteract the intended shame of the punishment.

Hester must also face the fact that Pearl’s father, the Reverend Mr. Dimmsdale, refuses to acknowledge his part in the affair. Despite pressure from the authorities, she keeps his secret, although it soon becomes clear that Dimmsdale’s guilt is consuming him from within. As with many of Hawthorne’s reclusive characters, Dimmsdale’s need for confession and forgiveness struggles against his desire to keep his inner identity hidden, and although he tries to confess from the pulpit, he proves too weak to set aside his ministerial façade. As the years pass, Hester’s initial crime is gradually forgotten. Her patient service as a member of the community and nurse to the sick slowly alters her image. Dimmsdale’s health eventually fails, in part because of the sinister questioning of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, who has returned to take his revenge on the minister. Chillingworth forces Hester to keep his identity a secret so that he can slowly punish Dimmsdale under the pretense of serving as his doctor. As Dimmsdale deteriorates, it becomes clear that only public confession will enable him to escape his consuming guilt.

Throughout his career, Hawthorne consistently recognized the ironic nature of public and private identity. In the climactic scene of The Scarlet Letter, a dying Dimmsdale finally confesses, acknowledging Hester and Pearl. Many in the town refuse to believe him, however, preferring their own image of their spotless minister. In a similar irony, Hester herself continues to wear the letter even after Dimmsdale’s death, when the letter’s original meaning is all but forgotten. Despite her attempts to escape it, the letter has become an undeniable part of her life.

The Scarlet Letter Overview

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s first novel, The Scarlet Letter, is introduced by a long chapter entitled “The Custom House,” which chronicles the author’s recent politically motivated dismissal from his position at the Salem Custom House. In this introduction Hawthorne describes both his short-lived experiences as a political appointee as well as his recent re-emergence as a novelist. Hawthorne creates a historical and artistic connection to his own Puritan ancestors by presenting a fictionalized account of his discovery of an old cloth scarlet letter bound with ancient legal documents.

The novel proper opens with Hester Prynne, the protagonist, emerging from the depths of an ancient-looking prison, which the narrator calls the “black flower” of the Puritan community’s imagined utopia. As she mounts the scaffold for public display with her infant daughter Pearl in her arms and an elaborately embroidered scarlet letter A on her breast, scornful women call for worse, more violent punishments. From the beginning then, the stern law of the aged Puritan magistrates and the jeering townsfolk are juxtaposed with the reader’s own sense of compassion for the suffering woman and her newborn child. It is at this point, as well, that the reader is made aware of the complex structure of the character relations. While on the scaffold, Hester sees her estranged husband, Roger Chillingworth, who has been, for a time, learning medicinal arts from the Indians. The first few chapters of the novel after the initial scaffold scene establish the triangular relationship connecting Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth.

The central issue of the novel is how Hester’s punishment affects her relationships with others and how it changes her and Pearl. Hester, who takes up residence in a small cottage on the edge of town, is described as a living ghost, unable to find sympathy in the community in which she lives. She becomes an allegorical type in the Puritan symbolic imagination and is often reduced to a symbol within the sermons of church services. Hawthorne suggests that the scarlet letter, as a disciplinary measure, is ultimately a failure because Hester’s own elaborate artistic rendering of it—and the other meanings besides “Adultery” that can be assigned to it—makes it more an expression of individual resistance to the law than an enactment of the law’s force. Furthermore, the scarlet letter serves to isolate Hester and Pearl from the rest of the society. The narrator insists on numerous occasions that the real effect of the punishment is to drive both Hester and Pearl beyond the scope of the law and the bonds of sympathy. Shunned by society, Hester and Pearl become more metaphorically associated with the wilderness that surrounds them.

A second main issue that structures the novel is the consequence of Hester’s apparently ethical decision to conceal Dimmesdale’s identity as the father. By preserving her lover’s anonymity, Hester unwittingly assists in his destruction by both his own gnawing guilt and by the manipulative machinations of Chillingworth, who takes up residence as the Reverend Dimmesdale’s private doctor. Through his close proximity to the reverend, and as a consequence of their growing intimacy, Chillingworth is able to take advantage of the reverend’s increasing psychic vulnerability. The narrator observes that Chillingworth himself is transformed, through the obsessive probing into Dimmesdale’s symptoms, into a satanic figure for whom cruelty is elevated to an art form.

It is only with the revelation of Chillingworth’s identity that Dimmesdale is able to confront his own sin and take any sort of action. Perhaps the most memorable scene in the novel is the central one in which Dimmesdale’s guilt drives him to the scaffold at night, where he meets Hester and Pearl. It is here that Dimmesdale fails himself by refusing to honor Pearl’s wish that he hold her hand in the light of day. However, it is the forest meeting between Hester and Dimmesdale that transforms the latter and urges him to act. Under Hester’s “lawless” influence, Dimmesdale begins to contemplate and finally accepts the formerly unthinkable notion of leaving the Puritan settlement of which he is a spiritual leader. After the meeting with Hester in the forest, Dimmesdale is aflame with new hope for their future life together. However, as the narrator makes clear, Dimmesdale’s romantic conversion is a form of madness, a kind of lawlessness that has been chiefly represented, up to this point, by Hester and Pearl. It is this madness, the narrator says, that allows Dimmesdale to gain new insights into his condition of sin and accept the possibility of action. This transformation ultimately leads to the climax of the novel, the public revelation of his guilt. In the conclusion of the novel, the narrator states that while Hester would not be the prophetess of the new truth of the relation between the sexes, she would take up both her scarlet letter (which is no longer a stigma) and a place in the community, assuming a role as the counselor and friend to other women.

The Scarlet Letter Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a summer morning in Boston, in the early days of the Massachusetts Colony, a throng of curious people gather outside the jail in Prison Lane. They are there looking for Hester Prynne, who was found guilty of adultery by a court of stern Puritan judges. Condemned to wear on the breast of her gown the scarlet letter A, which stands for adulterer, she is to stand on the stocks before the meetinghouse for three hours so that her shame might be a warning and a reproach to all who see her. The crowd waits to see her ascend the scaffold with her child—the proof of the adultery, Hester’s husband being absent—in her arms.

At last, escorted by the town beadle, the woman appears. She moves serenely to the steps of the scaffold and stands quietly under the staring eyes that watch her public disgrace. It is whispered in the gathering that she is spared the penalty of death or of branding only through the intercession of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, into whose church she brought her scandalous sin.

While Hester stands on the scaffold, an elderly, almost deformed man appears out of the forest. When her agitation makes it plain that she recognizes him, he puts his finger to his lips as a sign of silence.

Hester’s story is well known in the community. She is the daughter of an old family of decayed fortune; when she was young, her family married her to a husband who had great repute as a scholar. For some years, they lived in Antwerp. Two years later, the husband sent his wife alone across the ocean to the Massachusetts Colony, intending to follow her as soon as he could put his affairs in order. News came of his departure, but his ship was never heard of again. The young, attractive widow lived quietly in Boston until the time of her disgrace.

The scaffold of the pillory on which Hester stands is situated next to the balcony of the church where all the dignitaries of the colony sit to watch her humiliation. The ministers of the town call on her to name the man who is equally guilty; the most eloquent of those who exhorts her is Dimmesdale, her pastor. Hester refuses to name the father of her child, and she is led back to the prison after her period of public shame ends.

On her return to prison, Hester is found to be in a state of great nervous excitement. When at last medical aid is called, a man is found who professes knowledge of medicine. His name is Roger Chillingworth, he tells the jailer, and he recently arrived in town after a year of residence among the Indians. He is the stranger who appeared so suddenly from the forest that afternoon while Hester stood on the scaffold, and Hester recognized him immediately as her husband, the scholar Prynne. His ship was wrecked on the coast, and he was a captive among the Indians for many months. When he comes to Hester, he, too, asks her to name the father of her child. When she refuses, he tells her he will remain in Boston to practice medicine and that he will devote the rest of his life to discovering the identity of the man who dishonored him. He commands Hester not to betray the relationship between them.

When Hester’s term of imprisonment is over, she finds a small house on the outskirts of town, far removed from other habitation. There, with her child, whom she names Pearl, she settles down to earn a living from needlework, an outcast from society. She still wears the scarlet emblem on the breast of her sober gowns, but she dresses her child in bright, highly ornamented costumes. As she grows up, Pearl proves to be a capricious, wayward child, hard to discipline. One day, Hester calls on Governor Bellingham to deliver a pair of embroidered gloves. She also wants to see him about the custody of Pearl, for there is a movement afoot among the strict church members to take the child away from her. In the garden of the governor’s mansion, Hester finds the governor, Dimmesdale, and old Chillingworth. When the perverse child refuses to repeat the catechism, the governor thinks it necessary that she be reared apart from her mother. Dimmesdale argues persuasively, however, and in the end Hester is allowed to keep Pearl, who seems to be strangely attracted to the minister.

Chillingworth became intimately acquainted with Dimmesdale as both his parishioner and his doctor, for the minister has been in ill health ever since the physician came to town. The two men lodge in the same house, and the physician comes to know Dimmesdale’s inmost thoughts and feelings. The minister is much plagued by his conscience and his feelings of guilt, but when he incorporates these ideas in generalities into his sermons, his congregation only thinks more highly of him. Slowly the conviction grows in Chillingworth that Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father, and he conjures up for the sick man visions of agony, terror, and remorse.

One night, unable to sleep, Dimmesdale walks to the pillory where Hester stood in ignominy. He goes up the steps and stands for a long time in the same place. A little later Hester, who was watching at a deathbed, comes by with little Pearl. The minister calls them over, saying when they were there before he lacked the courage to stand beside them. As the three stand together, with Dimmesdale acknowledging himself as Pearl’s father and Hester’s partner in sin, Chillingworth watches them from the shadows.

Hester is so shocked by Dimmesdale’s feeble and unhealthy condition that she determines to see her former husband and plead with him to free the sick minister from his evil influence.

One day, she meets the old physician gathering herbs in the forest and begs him to be merciful to his victim. Chillingworth, however, is inexorable; he will not forgo his revenge on the man who wronged him. Hester thereupon says that she will tell Dimmesdale their secret and warn him against his physician. A short time later, Hester and Pearl intercept Dimmesdale in the forest as he is returning from a missionary journey to the Indians. Hester confesses her true relationship with Chillingworth and warns the minister against the physician’s evil influence. She and the clergyman decide to leave the colony together in secret, take passage on a ship then in the harbor, and return to the Old World. They plan to leave four days later, after Dimmesdale preaches the sermon on Election Day, when the new governor is to be installed.

Election Day is a holiday in Boston, and the port is lively with the unaccustomed presence of sailors from the ship in the harbor. In the crowd is the captain of the vessel, with whom Hester made arrangements for her own and Dimmesdale’s passage. That morning, the captain informs Hester that Chillingworth also arranged for passage on the ship. Filled with despair, Hester turns away and goes with Pearl to listen to Dimmesdale’s sermon.

Unable to find room within the church, she stands at the foot of the scaffold where at least she can hear the sound of his voice. As the procession leaves the church, everyone has words only of praise for the minister’s inspired address. Dimmesdale walks like a man in a dream, and once he totters and almost falls. When he sees Hester and Pearl at the foot of the scaffold, he steps out of the procession and calls them to him. Then, taking them by the hand, he again climbs the steps of the pillory. Almost fainting, but with a voice terrible and majestic, the minister admits his guilt to the watching people. With a sudden motion, he tears the ministerial band from across his breast and sinks, dying, to the platform. When he thus exposes his breast, witnesses say that the stigma of the scarlet letter A was seen imprinted on the flesh above his heart.

Chillingworth, no longer able to wreak his vengeance on Dimmesdale, dies within the year, bequeathing his considerable property to Pearl. For a time, Hester disappears from the colony, but she returns alone years later to live in her humble thatched cottage and to wear as before the scarlet emblem on her breast. The scarlet letter, once her badge of shame, becomes an emblem of her tenderness and mercy—an object of veneration and reverence to those whose sorrows she alleviates by her deeds of kindness. At her death, she directs that the only inscription on her tombstone should be the letter A.

The Scarlet Letter Summary

Part I
The Scarlet Letter opens with an expectant crowd standing in front of a Boston prison in the early 1640s....

(The entire section is 1433 words.)

The Scarlet Letter Summary and Analysis

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

The Scarlet Letter opens with a description of the prison in which Hester has been incarcerated for adultery. This prison is an ugly, necessary building, constructed very early in the history of Boston colony. Boston lore holds that Anne Hutchinson, the infamous spiritual advisor and "heretic," once walked into this same prison, and that a rose-bush sprung up under her sainted feet. The omniscient narrator hopes that these roses will symbolize a kind of moral sweetness that will otherwise be hard to find in this novel.

Anne Hutchinson (1591 - 1643). A Puritan spiritual advisor, Anne Hutchinson has become infamous for her unorthodox teachings. Her religious gatherings were a source of some discomfort in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and in 1637 she was put on trial for heresy. Following the trial, she was banished from the colony and excommunicated from the church. Hawthorne's narrator, however, refers to her as "sainted," which clearly indicates his distaste for the rigid Puritanism that vilified Hutchinson.
Isaac Johnson (? - 1630). One of the founders of the state of Massachusetts. He's said to have been buried in King's Chapel's burial ground, but this may merely be a rumor.
King's Chapel. This most likely refers to Boston's King's Chapel, which was first constructed in 1686. Its original edifice was later demolished so that the chapel could be rebuilt. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, appears to have gotten his history wrong: King's Chapel was built in 1686, but The Scarlet Letter opens on the year 1642, over forty years before King's Chapel was founded.
The Rose Bush. Hawthorne's narrator directly states that the rose bush is intended "to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow." In this way, he prepares the reader for the dark story to come.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Seemingly the entire city of Boston has gathered outside the prison. These Puritan men and women have come to judge Hester Prynne, the protagonist of the novel, who's on trial for adultery. Hester's crime was only discovered after the fact, when she bore a child despite the absence of her husband, whom everyone suspects to have been killed by Native Americans. Most of the audience appears to have already decided what they think about her. Some wish she had been branded with a hot poker. Others think the scarlet letter A sewn into her clothes is enough.

Hester steps out onto the scaffold carrying her three-month-old daughter, Pearl. Hester is described as a tall, beautiful woman with flowing hair and enormous vitality. She's also a talented seamstress, and the clothes she wears appear rich, even though she herself wouldn't be classed as such. In terms of appearance, Hester reminds the narrator of the Virgin Mary. These Puritans, however, gaze upon her with an utter lack of sympathy. While standing before these people, Hester thinks of her past in England and of her life up to this moment. She can hardly believe what's happening.

Hawthorne uses alliteration in the line, "Lastly, in lieu of these shifting scenes…"
Antinomian. Antinomianism promotes the doctrine of sola fide, or "faith alone." This stems from the belief that the faithful are saved simply by their belief in God rather than their adherence to the Law of Moses (the laws governing the actions of Christians, as set forth in the Bible). Antinomianism was looked down upon by many prominent theologians and was considered heretical by the Council of Trent, a 16th Century ecumenical council that issued a number of degrees concerning heresies.
Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603). Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I reigned as Queen of England from 1558 - 1603, in which time England flourished both financially and artistically. Her reign has come to be known as the Elizabethan Era, during which William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe led a movement in English drama. Hawthorne's narrator describes Elizabeth as "man-like" in large part because she was a powerful woman who refused to back down, particularly when under attack.
Hawthorne uses internal rhyme in the sentence, "Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders, at the scaffold." Linking "cold" and "scaffold" here effectively renders the scaffold a heartless, unfeeling place.
When Hester stands on the scaffold, the crowd sometimes looks to her "like a mass of imperfectly shaped and spectral images." This use of the word "imperfect" emphasizes that the citizens in this crowd aren't necessarily in the right and that their souls may be no cleaner than Hester's.
The Scaffold. In the context of this novel, the scaffold is by and large a symbol of shame and public humiliation. When Hester stands on it, she's at the mercy of those above her (the magistrates and ministers), as well as those below (the public). Much later in the novel, Dimmesdale himself will stand upon the scaffold, bringing shame upon himself.
The Scarlet Letter. This scarlet letter symbolizes many things. First and foremost, it symbolizes Hester's adultery—the letter A standing in for the crime itself. It's also a symbol of the puritanical laws that govern society in 17th Century Boston. This scarlet letter has religious, legal, and moral connotations.
Religion. It should be clear by now that The Scarlet Letter is a deeply religious novel and that its plot hinges largely on puritanical beliefs that dictate how a person thinks, behaves, and even loves. Note, also, that different characters have a different relationship with their faith, and that the narrator's beliefs do not align with those of the most puritanical citizens of Boston.
The Supernatural. Even though the novel revolves heavily around religious iconography, the supernatural will play a significant role in the narrative, especially with regards to Pearl and her mother. In this chapter, the supernatural is hinted at through the use of the words "preternaturally" and "phantasmagoric." This links the supernatural with the theme of optics, which is developed here in terms of perception and vision.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

While on the scaffold, Hester notices a Native American in the crowd. Next to him is a small man, whom Hester recognizes as her husband, Mr. Prynne. She doesn't reveal his identity, however, and he lifts a finger to his lips to make sure she keeps quiet. He asks people in the crowd why she is on the scaffold and learns of her crime. He also learns that, because of his own presumed death and his long absence, she has been spared the harshest punishment (that is, death) for adultery.

Governor Bellingham and several magistrates sit in the balcony over the scaffold. Upon looking up at them, Hester pales, seeing no sympathy in their hearts. This clergyman wants Hester to speak of her sin in the open, but his colleague, Reverend Dimmesdale, disagrees. In explaining this, the first clergyman puts Dimmesdale on the spot, and the Reverend feels compelled to stand and ask Hester for the name of her lover. He does this despite the fact that he is the culprit.

When Hester refuses to reveal the name of the baby's father, the first clergyman to speak delivers a sermon on the horrors of sin, focusing particularly on that symbolized by the scarlet letter. Though aware of the crowd's condemnation, Hester glazes over, unmoved by the sermon, and is eventually taken back to prison.


Hawthorne is fond of alliteration, and he uses it frequently. One example of this can be found at the end of the chapter, when he writes that Hester "seemed scarcely to sympathize" with Pearl's crying.
Color. In response to the clergyman's evidently melodramatic sermon, the Puritans of Boston see the fires of hell in the scarlet letter. Traditionally, the color red is associated with love, passion, and heat, all of which are linked to sin in this novel. Note that the color red will be used sparingly in this novel, making the scarlet of the letter A all the more vivid.
Mr. Prynne (here identified only as "the stranger") repeats the ominous promise "he will be known" three times. This emphasizes his determination to discover the identity of Pearl's father.
Hawthorne uses many similes in this chapter. One example is found in the way horror washes over Chillingworth's facial features "like a snake gliding softly over them." Another is in the description of the one of the clergyman: "He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old volumes of sermons…" Hawthorne's simile likens the clergyman to a stately, elderly theologian whose outdated opinions are irrelevant and self-important.
Fatherhood. In this chapter, Hawthorne introduces two different kinds of fatherhood: that of God—or the "Holy Father"—whom Christians believe to be everyone's spiritual father and that of Reverend Dimmesdale, Pearl's biological father, who will play little to no part in her upbringing. When he implores Hester to "give [her] child a father," he means both that she should reveal his name and free him from the binds that prevent him from being a father to Pearl.
Guilt. Guilt and sin go hand in hand in this novel, and both are symbolized by the scarlet letter sewn onto Hester's clothes. Though Hester claims that the mark can never be removed because it's "too deeply branded," there's some question as to whether or not she feels guilty. Certainly, she understands the shame of the letter and intends to bear the agony alone, but this could be interpreted as capitulation to necessity rather than guilt. Reverend Dimmesdale, on the other hand, appears crushed under the weight of his guilt. When he commands Hester to name his name, it's as if he's begging her to free him of his guilt.
Sin. Traditionally, sin has been associated with filth, abominations, and a general uncleanliness of body and mind. Thus, any reference to dirt or cleanliness is an indirect way of characterizing someone or something as sinful or sinless. "Unadulterated" sunlight is, therefore, pure or innocent, whereas the "lurid" color of the scarlet letter recalls the fire of hell.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Following her ordeal on the scaffold, Hester grows agitated and must be placed on suicide watch in prison. Finally, the jailer decides to call a doctor. Hester's husband, a prisoner of a Native American tribe, happens to be staying in the prison while awaiting the negotiation of his ransom, so he comes to attend to Hester. He has taken an assumed name, Roger Chillingworth, so the guards don't know his true identity.

Chillingworth claims to heave learned much from the Native Americans, in terms of medicine. He examines the infant, asking Hester to administer the draught since he isn't the father and thus won't be able to soothe Pearl with his presence. He then gives Hester a draught. She briefly suspects that it's poison, but he assures her that this would be counter to his goal. He wants her to live and suffer under the weight of the scarlet letter. He admits, however, that it was wrong of him to marry her—a much younger woman—after she told him she didn't love him. Both parties apologize.

In the end, Chillingworth doesn't want Hester back. He wants the name of her lover, but she refuses to give him Dimmesdale's name. If she gets to keep Dimmesdale's secret, then Chillingworth thinks it only fair that she should keep his. He makes her promise not to reveal his true identity to anyone. She agrees, but wonders aloud if she has made a pact with the Devil.

Lethe. In classical Greek mythology, the Lethe river is known as the river of forgetfulness. It's one of five rivers in the underworld, and the spirits of the dead are forced to drink the waters in order to forget their lives on earth. Chillingworth alludes to the river to suggest that he never forgets a slight.
Nepenthe. In Greek, nepenthe means "anti-sorrow." In Greek medicine, Nepenthe is a sort of antidepressant, a drug that induces forgetfulness in order to rid the patient of the very painful memories causing their depression.
Paracelsus (1493 - 1541). Paracelsus was a Swiss-German physician, in addition to being a philosopher. He's now credited as the father of modern toxicology and has been widely recognized for his achievements, his creation of laudanum, his naming of the element zinc, and his many discoveries in the field of medicine and disease pathology. Chillingworth alludes to him to demonstrate that Native American medicine and healing practices are as old and therefore respectable as Paracelsus's many works.
Chillingworth uses a metaphor when he says that his "heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire." This equates his heart with a big and yet unwelcoming home. He extends the metaphor when he refers to the innermost "chamber," or room, in his heart.
When Hester asks Chillingworth, "Art thou like the Black Man…?" she's effectively asking him if he's the Devil. This would make her promise to him a kind of devil's pact damning both her and her family (Dimmesdale included). In comparing Chillingworth to the Devil, she characterizes him as a fundamentally evil character with malevolent intentions.
Secrets. There are two major secrets in this chapter: Chillingworth's identity and Pearl's paternity. Both these secrets are kept by Hester, who has been called upon to protect two men, both of whom will live by and large in the shadows, hiding their true identities. Hester, by contrast, lives out in the open, with the mark of her adultery visible for all the world to see.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

Upon her release from prison, Hester realizes that her entire life will henceforth be lived under the infamy and the shame of the scarlet letter. She will be mocked daily. Ridiculed. Treated with contempt in her own home—and yet she doesn't leave Boston. She chooses to stay, in part because Dimmesdale is there and she wants to be close to him. She moves into a small, abandoned cottage on the edge of town, where she does good business as a seamstress. She sews everything from gloves to dresses to baby linens—but never wedding veils.

Though Hester herself wears plain, simple garments, she dresses Pearl in "fanciful" clothes displaying her ingenuity as a seamstress. This costs her little, however, and whatever she has left over this, she gives to charity. These two acts (sewing and charitable giving) seem to comfort her. Her life has for the most part been stripped of passion, but she's able to take pleasure in her work. Still, life is hard, and Hester has no friends in town. She's treated with the utmost contempt, and she can't walk down the street without someone lecturing her, making fun of her, or looking at her with distrust.

Every once in awhile, Hester entertains the notion that there are others like her in Boston—sinners and adulterers who, though they don't bear the red mark, are guilty of the same sin. She imagines a fellow adulteress looking upon her with sympathy and understanding; but no one comes forward to befriend or comfort her. In fact, the rumor spreads through town that the scarlet letter is itself a sort of fire and that it can be seen to glow in the dark. This is, of course, untrue.

There are several examples of alliteration in this chapter, including "familiar fireside" and "morbid meddling."
Cain. In the Bible, Cain kills his brother Abel out of jealousy. He's frustrated because God prefers Abel's offerings to his. When God learns of the fratricide, he marks Cain as a murderer and banishes him, dooming him to roam the earth for the rest of his life. This mark of Cain is compared to the scarlet letter, which seems far worse to Hester than the mark of Cain.
Hawthorne uses metaphor and nature imagery when he writes that Hester's sin and ignominy "were the roots which she had struck into the soil." In effect, her sin is the foundation of her new life, and were she to leave Boston she would be uprooted, so to speak, and have little on which to found her life. Her decision to remain in Boston makes more sense when you consider the psychological and emotional damage caused by her predicament. She doesn't have the strength to break away.
Hawthorne uses a simile when he writes that all the gossip about and condescension toward Hester "fell upon the sufferer's defenseless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated wound." This simile likens the abstract sentiments of the townsfolk to real, physical attacks on Hester's person.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Hawthorne's narrator diverges from the narrative in order to devote this entire chapter to discussing Pearl, Hester's child, so named because she came at a "great price" and was Hester's "treasure." The girl has no physical defects, but Hester fears that there's a "dark and wild peculiarity" about her and starts to think of her not as a human child but as an "elf" (meaning a supernatural creature). Though she loves Pearl deeply, Hester has difficulty controlling and teaching this elf child and doesn't have the mettle to rebuke the child. As such, Pearl grows up a willful but enchanting child.

Quickly enough, Pearl reaches the age where it's customary for children to begin playing with other children. Pearl, however, is just as much of an outcast as her mother and is consigned to grow up in imposed loneliness. Luckily, Pearl's character makes this easier than one would expect. She doesn't seem to mind playing alone and doesn't like the other kids. In fact, she hates them and lashes out at them whenever they gather round to make fun of her.

Hester worries that her daughter isn't human because of her animosity toward the other children. At times, she looks at Pearl and thinks of her as an elvin creature rather than as her human daughter. In a particularly striking moment, Hester asks, "Child, what are thou?" when Pearl throws wildflowers at Hester's scarlet letter. Hester fears that the Devil sent Pearl to her. When she asks if the Heavenly Father sent Pearl, the girl says, "Do thou tell me!" Hester can't come to a conclusion. Pearl's origins remain a mystery.

Good examples of alliteration in this chapter are "phantasmagoric play" and "a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice."
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546). A German theologian whose Ninety-five Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther questioned the authority of the Pope and spoke out against the sale of indulgences (religious forms of forgiveness for small sins), which were used to line the Church's coffers. Hawthorne writes that, according to Luther's enemies, he was "a brat of that hellish breed" to which Pearl belonged.
Pearl. In naming her daughter Pearl, Hester makes her a symbol of beauty, treasure, and sacrifice. Though she loves her daughter, Hester is aware that she paid a terrible price for her. This cost weighs heavy on Hester, who fears that her daughter's beauty has some supernatural element. Pearl thus serves as a reminder of Hester's shame and of the lust that caused her to invite the Devil into her life.
The Supernatural. Pearl's "elfish" nature sets her apart from the Puritan children of Boston. She's an outcast feared not just for her status as the product of a love affair but also for her mysterious, potentially supernatural origins. There's something inhuman about Pearl that worries Hester. Pearl's disinterest in other kids her age, her sudden rages, and her spritely communion with nature suggest that she's not entirely of this world.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

Hester visits the mansion of Governor Bellingham. She brings him a pair of gloves he ordered. She takes this opportunity to speak to him about Pearl. There are rumors that some people in town have conspired to take Pearl away from her, and Hester wants to make sure this won't happen. She finds it strange that Governor Bellingham would involve himself in this matter, or that anyone would try to undermine her rights as a mother.

When Hester and Pearl arrive, a group of Puritan children laugh and throw mud at them. Enraged, Pearl charges at them, scattering the group. She and her mother are then free to enter the mansion, which is a testament to the Governor's great wealth. Inside, Hester speaks to one of the Governor's indentured servants, who tells her the Governor is too busy to see her. Nevertheless, Hester enters, intent on speaking with the Governor.

Hester and Pearl wait in a large room lined with many portraits. There's also a giant suit of armor, which is shiny enough to reflect and distort like a funhouse mirror. Hester's scarlet letter is blown up to exaggerated proportions in this reflection. After a while, Pearl and Hester see the Governor and several ministers walking through the garden to house.

Hawthorne continues to make heavy use of alliteration. One good example of this is the "fantasies and flourishes of gold thread" with which Hester embroiders Pearl's clothes.
Aladdin. A character from a popular Middle Eastern folk tale. Hawthorne compares the Governor's mansion to Aladdin's palace, further emphasizing the Governor's wealth.
Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626). Bacon was a prominent scientist, philosopher, barrister, and Renaissance man with many talents. In the late 16th and early 17th Centuries, he was heavily involved in the founding of the colonies. His career as a public servant ended when he was charged with twenty-three counts of corruption. He's alluded to in this chapter to indicate that the Governor was himself a prominent lawyer.
Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577) by Raphael Holinshed (1529 - 1580). While waiting for the Governor, Hester comes across a heavy tome, which might be an old copy of Holinshed's Chronicles. Holinshed's book provides a comprehensive history of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It's referred to as "substantial literature" by Hawthorne.
Edward Coke (1552 - 1634). An English barrister and one of Francis Bacon's rivals. He successfully prosecuted the perpetrators of the Gunpowder Plot (an assassination attempt on the life of King James I of England). As Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, he introduced reforms that frustrated and undermined the monarchy. Like Bacon, he's alluded to simply to emphasize the Governor's training as a lawyer.
John Finch (1584 - 1660). An English barrister active in the judgment of William Prynne, an English lawyer and writer whose writings led to his imprisonment in the Tower of London. His trials were later overturned, and John Finch's involvement made him very unpopular.
William Noye (1577 - 1634). Noy(e) was a lawyer who was appointed attorney-general in 1631. One of his many unpopular acts as attorney-general was to initiate proceedings against William Prynne, the lawyer and author after whom Hawthorne may have named his main character.
Pequot War (1636 - 1638). This two-year conflict between the Pequot tribe and the members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in the deaths of some seven hundred members of the Pequot tribe. Governor Bellingham, a lawyer and a soldier, fought in this war. His coat of armor still stands in the room where Hester and Pearl wait for him.
Hawthorne personifies illness when he writes that Pearl resembled "an infant pestilence." By doing so, Hawthorne emphasizes the bad behavior of the Puritan children of Boston, who run from Pearl as if she's going to punish them for their sins.
Governor Bellingham's Suit of Armor. This suit of armor symbolizes the Governor's time as a soldier. Following the Pequot War, in which the Governor fought valiantly, this suit of armor was put on display in his home, where it reminded visitor of the Governor's strength, power, and position.
Optics. Once again, the theme of optics or vision appears in relation to Hester. When she stands in front of the suit of armor, the scarlet letter on her breast is magnified, throwing her sin out of proportion in much the same way that it has been in town.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

Governor Bellingham returns to the mansion with Pastor John Wilson, Reverend Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. He remarks on Pearl's scarlet clothes, thinking fondly of Christmases back in England. Having never met Pearl before, it takes him a moment to recognize her as Hester Prynne's daughter. There has been some talk of taking Pearl away from Hester so that she can be brought up right, without her mother's sinful influence. The Governor asks Hester point blank if she thinks this is a good idea.

Hester insists that she can raise Pearl as well as anyone else, if not better. She points directly to the scarlet letter, saying, "I can teach my little pearl what I have learned from this!" Her public shame, she insists, will be a lesson to her daughter, who will grow up aware of the dangers of sin. Hearing this, the Governor asks John Wilson to examine the child. Despite hours of strict teaching from her mother, Pearl isn't able to quote her Catechisms or her Primer accurately. Finally, she declares that she wasn't made at all, but was instead plucked off the rose bush by the prison door.

Wilson and the Governor find Pearl's declaration reason enough to take her away from Hester. She disagrees, however. Desperate to maintain custody of her child, Hester turns to Dimmesdale, whom she knows to be sympathetic. He agrees that the bond between mother and daughter is too strong or sacred to break. He argues that Pearl was given to Hester as "the one blessing of her life" and that it would be wrong for them to take that blessing away after it was bestowed by God Himself.

Dimmesdale convinces the other men that Pearl should remain with Hester. All agree that the child will have to attend prayer meetings in addition to school. Dimmesdale withdraws a little, tired, and Pearl takes the opportunity to approach him. This is quite possibly the first real interaction between father and daughter, and it results in Pearl pressing Dimmesdale's hand to her cheek. Their moment of tenderness is fleeting, however, and Pearl quickly skips away down the hall.

Wilson suggests that there might be some witchcraft in Pearl, because her feet hardly seem to touch the ground. Chillingworth suggests that they undertake a philosophical investigation of the child to determine the identity of her father. Wilson crushes this idea, however, saying it would be a sin. He says they should leave it to Providence to reveal Pearl's father. Satisfied, Hester leaves the mansion only to be confronted by a known witch asking her to join in Devil worship. Hester says she would have gladly joined in had they taken Pearl with her; but since they did not, she declines the offer.

King James I (1566 - 1625). Son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James ruled as King of Scotland for thirty-six years before assuming the throne of England. His reign saw many highs and lows, including his attempted assassination in the Gunpowder Plot, the release of the King James Version of the Bible, and the continuation of the Elizabethan Age of literature. Hawthorne alludes to one of the fashions popular under King James's rule.
John the Baptist. An important Biblical figure said to have baptized Jesus Christ. According to The Gospel of Mark, John was beheaded after Herod's daughter Salome demanded John's head be brought to her, even though Herod himself was fond of John. In traditional Christian iconography, John's head is shown resting on a platter. Hawthorne alludes to this beheading to describe the unfortunate visual effect of the Governor's antiquated clothes.
Lord of Misrule. In England, the Lord of Misrule presided over the Feast of Fools on Christmas. Typically, the Lord of Misrule was a peasant or someone of little station and was chosen by lots. Governor Bellingham thinks fondly of the Feast and of the so-called "children" of the Lord of Misrule, who ran around in red garments, much like Pearl.
Color. Hawthorne repeatedly uses color to represent wealth, beauty, and sin. Here, he emphasizes the rich scarlet color of Pearl's clothes to emphasize that she's the product and the physical embodiment of sin. The Governor's description of her as a "little bird of scarlet plumage" highlights her inhuman characteristics.
Hawthorne uses a simile when he describes Pearl as "a wild tropical bird of rich plumage" about to take flight. This comparison emphasizes her inhuman, strange, and exotic qualities, making her less of a child and more of a creature.
Pearl's Clothes. In Chapter 6, Hawthorne established that Pearl herself is a symbol of Hester's sin and shame. Here, he doubles down on that symbolism by emphasizing Pearl's scarlet clothes, which symbolize sin in the same way that Hester's scarlet letter does.
The Rose Bush. In Chapter 1, Hawthorne established the rose bush as a symbol of a kind of morality that might not otherwise be visible in the novel. When Pearl claims to have picked from this bush, she effectively characterizes herself as a moral character. This directly contradicts the image of her created by the townsfolk, who believe her to be the physical manifestation of sin.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

Roger Chillingworth is the "leech" of this chapter's title. Following his meeting with Hester, Roger began working as a physician in Boston. While held captive by the Native Americans, he learned a great deal about natural medicine, which he uses in his practice. He quickly becomes renowned for his work, which leads him to become Reverend Dimmesdale's personal physician. The minister has some misgivings about the arrangement. He would much rather suffer without treatment and die as is, without medical intervention. Nevertheless, Chillingworth starts to treat him.

Chillingworth becomes fascinated with the minister. Dimmesdale, in turn, feels a certain intellectual curiosity toward Chillingworth, whose...

(The entire section is 704 words.)

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis

Chillingworth begins a thorough investigation of Dimmesdale's character. In spite of the minister's apparent holiness, Chillingworth believes that Dimmesdale has inherited a distinct "animal" nature from his father. Well aware that the reverend is well-liked, Chillingworth proceeds carefully. When the minister is out of the house, the "leech" searches for clues. Dimmesdale can't see Chillingworth for who and what he really is. He continues to treat the doctor as a friend.

Chillingworth shows his patient some flowers he picked off a dead man's grave. This is an attempt to trick the minister into revealing his deep secrets. Dimmesdale counters by saying that revealing one's secrets in life isn't necessary. In the end, all will be revealed to God. Any confession of sin in one's lifetime is primarily for the purpose of solace. That is, being honest would make these people feel better, but wouldn't necessarily improve their chance of salvation.

Dimmesdale argues that some people must hide their deepest secrets so that they can continue to do good within the community. If they were to reveal themselves, he says, then their reputations could be ruined, and if that happens all their good work will be negated. In this, the reverend is of course speaking of himself, though he never says so directly. He changes the subject by asking his "friend" if his treatment has been working. Before Chillingworth can answer, Hester and Pearl pass by their house.

Chillingworth goes to the window. He wonders if Pearl is evil. Dimmesdale isn't sure. Hearing this, Pearl throws a burr at the Reverend and calls Chillingworth a "black man," meaning a devil. Hester and Pearl hurry away, and the men are left alone again. Chillingworth returns to the question of the minister's treatment. He admits that the minister's ailment perplexes him. He accuses the Reverend of hiding the true cause of his ailment. Chillingworth suspects it's a disease of the soul. This causes Dimmesdale to question whether this leech has the skills to treat him effectively. He hurries out of the room, declaring that God alone will be his doctor.

It doesn't take long for the men to reconcile. Chillingworth continues to treat the minister's strange illness. One day, Dimmesdale happens to fall asleep in a chair. Chillingworth sneaks up, opens the minister's shirt, and sees the true cause of the minister's ailment. Hawthorne doesn't reveal this until later, but Dimmesdale has been carving an A into his chest. This wound is slowly killing him.

Hawthorne often uses alliteration in this chapter. Examples of this include "sore sick" and "amplest apologies."
John Bunyan (1628 - 1688). A Baptist preacher, author of The Pilgrim's Progress. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Bunyan was imprisoned for hosting a religious gathering outside the parish church. While he was in jail, Bunyan wrote his most enduring work, The Pilgrim's Progress. He's alluded to here for his acute insight into the nature of the Christian's soul.
Hawthorne alternately compares Roger Chillingworth to "a miner searching for gold" and "a sexton delving into a grave" in search of the minister's secrets. Note that both of these similes characterize Chillingworth as a man digging where he doesn't belong.
The Ugly Flowers. Chillingworth picks these flowers off a dead man's grave—or so he says. It's quite possible that the leech has made up this story to manipulate Dimmesdale into revealing himself. When the physician says the flowers are representative of "some hideous secret" in the dead man's heart, it's abundantly clear that he's trying to figure out Dimmesdale's secret.
Illness. There are two different types of illness in the novel: that of the body in its weakness and that of the soul in its depravity. Most of the Puritans in Boston seem to think of sin as a kind of disease Hester and Pearl could spread to others. In Chapter 8, Hawthorne even described Pearl as the embodiment of "scarlet fever," one of the deadliest diseases in the colonies at that time. In this chapter, physical and spiritual illnesses collide in Reverend Dimmesdale. His guilt about his sin has led him to carve a scarlet letter A in his chest. This wound is no doubt destroying his health.
Secrets. Hawthorne continues to develop the theme of secrets, which is closely linked to the theme of guilt. Chillingworth uses the ugly weeds from the dead man's grave as the physical manifestation of that man's deepest secrets. In effect, he turns the flowers into symbols. One could argue that most of the symbols in this novel (the scarlet letter, the ugly weeds, Pearl, and Pearl's clothes) are in some way representative of secrets. Most of them, in fact, keep Dimmesdale's identity a secret.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

Now that Chillingworth knows Dimmesdale's secret, he intends to exact his revenge. He becomes a cruel, calculating man and takes every opportunity he can to hurt the minister. His torture is subtle, however, and the reverend isn't able to pinpoint exactly what has changed about Chillingworth. His former "friend" becomes a kind of enemy, and Dimmesdale comes to hate him. Still, the minister is tortured by his guilt, and he fears that his distrust of Chillingworth stems from this guilt rather than from Chillingworth's own actions. He doesn't confront his enemy and instead suffers in silence.

Meanwhile, Dimmesdale becomes even more popular as a minister. His sensitivity makes it easy to relate to his flock, who admire him over the older, more learned scholars in Boston. This emotional and sensitive nature stems from his guilt, which keeps him from climbing to the high ranks of men. He instead remains on the same level as his parishioners. Most of the girls in his church fall in love with him. Elderly citizens expect him to die first and wish to be buried near him.

This popularity only makes Dimmesdale worse. It weighs heavily on his conscience and leads him to think of himself as a kind of pollution. He fantasizes about standing at the pulpit and confessing his sins. Several times, he denigrates himself in front of his flock, referring to himself as "a thing of unimaginable iniquity," but this only makes them love him more. In response, Dimmesdale starts to whip himself with a scourge. He stands in front of a mirror, telling himself he's evil. He sees angels and demons around him and imagines Pearl pointing first at her mother's scarlet letter A and then at his chest.

One night, Dimmesdale has an idea. He rushes out the door. (to be continued in the next chapter)

Enoch. A Biblical figure and ancestor of Noah. One tradition holds that Enoch never experienced a mortal death. Another says that upon reaching Heaven Enoch was appointed chief of the archangels and a guardian of celestial treasures. He's considered an unassailably holy man in Christian theology. The Reverend alludes to him to prove that his parishioners think too highly of him.
Metaphor. Early on in this chapter, Hawthorne refers to Dimmesdale's secret as a "dark treasure." Later on, the minister thinks of himself as "a pollution and a lie." These metaphors might appear to conflict or to cause catachresis, but they are in fact in keeping with the themes of the novel. Hawthorne has long since established that secrets are both precious (like Pearl) and a source of illness (like the A on the minister's chest). Thus, treasure is a form of pollution, and pollution is a form of treasure.
Tongues of Flame. These tongues of flame descend on certain preachers, "symbolising, it would seem, not the power of speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of addressing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's native language." These flaming tongues would appear to give Dimmesdale the power to communicate with his flock on an interpersonal level.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis

Dimmesdale mounts the scaffold. It's a dark, lonely night in May, and most of the townsfolk are at home. The minister realizes that he has gone unnoticed, and in his horror and pain he cries out. He thinks the citizens of Boston will come investigate his cry, but it goes largely unheeded. An elderly woman looks out, as does the Governor, but both withdraw soon enough. Dimmesdale is left alone on the scaffold.

Eventually Wilson walks by with a lamp. Dimmesdale fantasizes about calling out to his colleague, but never actually does. Instead, he continues to wrestle with his guilt and shame. He thinks that, if he waits there until morning, someone will find him, and his sin will finally be known. This plan is foiled by Hester and Pearl, who approach the scaffold unexpectedly. Hester has been sitting vigil at Governor Winthrop's death-bed and is just now walking home.

When Pearl takes her father's hand, he feels reinvigorated. His fear of being found out also returns. Pearl asks him to stand with her and Hester the next day, but he refuses. One day he will stand with them, he tells her, "but not tomorrow." Just then, a bright meteor shoots across the sky, lighting the scene. In those days, meteors were thought to be harbingers foretelling a coming disaster: war with the Native Americans, pestilence, or failure. Such superstitions are not entirely lost in Dimmesdale. He thinks he sees the shape of the scarlet A in the meteor's passing.

Pearl points to Roger Chillingworth, who has been standing just beyond the scaffold. Dimmesdale turns to Hester, agitated. He says, "Who is that man, Hester?" but she cannot reveal Chillingworth's identity because of her oath. Pearl, however, made no such oath and tricks her father into believing she will tell him the truth. Instead, she whispers gibberish in his ear as punishment for declining to stand with her and Hester. He feels mocked, and Chillingworth approaches.

Chillingworth was also at Governor Winthrop's death-bed. He was just walking home when he saw Dimmesdale (or so he says). Despite his evident fear, Dimmesdale allows himself to be taken away by Chillingworth. The next day, Dimmesdale delivers a moving sermon—his best ever. Afterward, the Sexton approaches him, returning a glove that was found on the scaffold. The Sexton assumes it was left there as a cruel joke. He also asks if Dimmesdale saw the scarlet A made by the meteor. The minister lies about seeing it.

In this chapter's first paragraph, Hawthorne makes heavy use of alliteration with the repetition of a "s" sound. He writes that Dimmesdale is under the influence of a "species of somnambulism" (that is, sleepwalking) and that the scaffold has seen the "the storm or sunshine of seven long years."
King James I (1566 - 1625). For more information on King James I, see Chapter 8 Analysis: Allusions.
Hawthorne foreshadows Dimmesdale's eventual demise by showing him on the scaffold. This act is a kind of rehearsal for the scene in Chapter 23 when Dimmesdale does reveal his scarlet letter to an unsuspecting crowd.
To Dimmesdale, the ring of light from Wilson's lamp makes him look "like the saint-like personage of olden times, with a radiant halo." This emphasizes the holiness of the pastor but at the same time makes Dimmesdale look less holy by comparison.
The Black Glove. Dimmesdale's black glove is a symbol of his public shame (as opposed to his private guilt). When the Sexton returns it, there's some suspicion as to how the black glove appeared on the scaffold and why. Dimmesdale allows the Sexton to believe that this was Satan's doing and that the black glove was deliberately placed there in order to besmirch the Reverend's character. That Dimmesdale left the glove behind further indicates that he wants to be found out.
The Meteor. For Dimmesdale, this meteor is a symbol of his personal guilt, shame, lust, and sin. It's a powerful symbol of his degradation, and the minister interprets it as a sign that he should reveal himself and make his sin known. Many people see this meteor, however, and it means many different things to them. For the Sexton, the letter A stands for angel, as in the angel that took the Governor Winthrop to Heaven. For others, the meteor may portend doom.
The Scaffold. Yet again, this scaffold is a symbol of shame and public humiliation. When Dimmesdale stands on it, he's determined to reveal his sin to the world. This is the most dramatic and effective place to do so, given its public setting. If anybody were to see the minister on the scaffold, he would be ruined. This is made all too clear when his glove is found on the scaffold.
Life and Death. Hawthorne juxtaposes Governor Winthrop's death with Dimmesdale’s continued (if tortured) life. In this chapter, the Reverend's inner spiritual battle is given much more space and consideration than Governor Winthrop's death, which is mentioned only in passing. This can be interpreted a number of ways. One is to read the juxtaposition as a way of emphasizing the Reverend's desire to live. In this chapter, at least, his desire isn't to die but simply to be known, to be seen as a sinner. Life, for him, has come to mean torment. Honesty is one escape from this. Death is another.
Superstition. Religion and superstition aren't mutually exclusive, and many Christians in the novel see signs and symbols in things that don't traditionally have meaning in Judeo-Christian theologies. For example, the meteor that appears to write a letter A on the sky is interpreted to mean many things, including: "angel," sin, adultery, and possibly even an evil omen foretelling war with the Native Americans. All these interpretations stem in some way from superstitions, both religious and not, that see symbols in natural events such as meteor showers.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

Hester is upset by the minister's deteriorating health. She feels she must get close to him, but must be careful about it. Her situation is very different now than it was when she was first branded with the scarlet letter. It has been seven years, and the Puritans are much kinder to her than they used to be. As the narrator says, the human heart "loves more readily than it hates."

Hester's new, virtuous life has charmed the Puritans. She has suffered bravely without complaining, and they respect that. In fact, she does so much good work that some people refuse to believe the A stands for adultery. Others are slower to change their opinions (such as the magistrates and wealthy men of Boston). Hester herself seems stripped of her vitality. Her rich, luxuriant hair is hidden. Her clothes are plain. Consequently, she seems cold and passionless (prized qualities amongst Puritans, in those days). If not for Pearl, the narrator says, Hester might've been like Anne Hutchinson—the leader of a religious sect.

Hester has spent the last seven years ruminating on the nature of existence and what it means to be a woman in a puritanical society. When she sees Reverend Dimmesdale on the scaffold, she lets go of that train of thought. Dimmesdale needs her help. She decides to confront Chillingworth.

One example from this chapter is "ethereal essence."
Abel. A Biblical figure. His brother, Cain, killed him out of jealousy after God showed Abel favor. Abel's story ends there. For more about Cain, see Chapter 5 Analysis: Allusions.
Anne Hutchinson (1591 - 1643). For more information on Anne Hutchinson, see Chapter 1 Analysis: Allusions.
While ruminating on the nature of femininity and the experience of being a woman in 17th Century Boston, Hester becomes lost "in the dark labyrinth of mind." The metaphor equates the human mind with a maze that's impossible to know or navigate. When Hester gets lost, she's essentially confused.
The Scarlet Letter. This chapter marks an important shift in the meaning of the scarlet letter. Seven years of humble and virtuous living has made Hester an almost respectable figure in Boston. Many people refuse to think of her as a sinner and believe the letter A is short for Abel. Her mark of shame doesn't just stand for sin, lust, and infamy. It's also a driving force for good, inciting Hester to perform good deeds.
Gender. Hester's experience gives Hawthorne a reason to ruminate on gender and femininity. He writes that women have been forced into certain roles in society without their direct consent. Hester knows it's impossible for her life to change, but thinks perhaps society itself can change with regard to gender. It would mean breaking down society, then allowing women to assume what they think is a fair role in the community.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis

Hester happens to see Chillingworth while walking along the seashore with Pearl. She tells Pearl to play while the adults talk. He mentions that one of the town's magistrates once suggested removing the scarlet letter on her chest. She tells him that no one should remove the letter. "Were I worthy to be quit of it," she says, "it would fall away of its own nature…" He doesn't really care either way.

Hester notes that Chillingworth has become old, ugly, and deceitful. His once studious manner has been twisted into something evil and hideous. Hester is taken aback by his appearance. She quickly changes the subject to that of her oath. Though she has never explicitly named Dimmesdale, Hester and Chillingworth both know he's Pearl's father. She wants Chillingworth to stop torturing the man.

Chillingworth himself seems somewhat appalled by the changes he has undergone. He refers to his "once human" heart and admits that it would've been better for Dimmesdale to die immediately than to suffer all these years. And yet he thinks the suffering isn't enough. He feels personally slighted by Hester's affair with Dimmesdale. He laments that he was once a gentle, middle-aged scholar. If he's a fiend now, then it's their fault for turning him into one.

Hester says that she must reveal the secret of Dimmesdale's identity. She doesn't want Chillingworth to keep their secret, either. It hasn't been good for anyone involved. She and Chillingworth both pity each other for what they've become. She asks him to pardon her and Dimmesdale for what they did. He refuses, stating that it's not within his power. He will let Hester do as she wants, even if it means revealing Dimmesdale's secret.


One example of this can be found in the phrase "let the black flower blossom as it may!"
Colors. In this chapter, the most prominent colors are black and red. As always, the scarlet letter is linked to sin, shame, and lust. Here, it's most often linked to fire imagery, as when it's described as a "red-hot iron." This is largely in keeping with traditional interpretations of the color red, which is associated with fire, heat, and even hell.
The Black Flower. In Chapter 10, Hawthorne turned the ugly flowers on the dead man's grave into symbols of the deep secrets that man harbored in his heart. In this chapter, Hawthorne replicates that symbolism with the "black flower" Chillingworth mentions. This flower is symbolic of the secret in Dimmesdale's heart, which Hester and Chillingworth have decided to let blossom for the world to see.
Optics. When Hester confronts Chillingworth, it's as if he's able to see himself for the first time. His cruelty and thirst for revenge have disfigured him body and soul, turning him into a hideous, malicious man with little other than evil in his heart. He blames Hester and Dimmesdale for these changes, but also understands his own culpability. His sudden self-perception speaks to the theme of optics, which has been woven throughout the entire novel. In this case, "optics" refers both to Chillingworth's physical appearance and to his self-image, which undergoes radical changes in this chapter.
Revenge. Chillingworth's primary motivation is revenge. It leads him to mark his identity, pretend to befriend Dimmesdale, and allow the minister to torture himself. Hester thinks this is revenge enough, but the physician disagrees. "He has but increased the debt!" Chillingworth cries. In other words, he'll never stop torturing Dimmesdale. Nothing will ever rid him of his thirst for revenge. One could argue that the doctor's quest for revenge has become an exercise in spite. He tortures Dimmesdale not because the minister deserves it, but because he wants to. This is what makes him a "fiend."

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

Hester and Pearl leave Chillingworth to his own devices. Seeing him bent over, collecting what may well be poisonous herbs, Hester finally admits to herself that she hates the man. She can't remember why she married him. Meanwhile, Pearl has been entertaining herself in the shallows, building boats out of birch-bark and playing with the starfish ("five-fingers"). Her often violent nature reveals itself yet again when she begins throwing rocks at a flock of birds. This amuses her until she realizes she's injured one of the birds, potentially breaking its wing.

Tired of her games, Pearl decides to fashion herself a headdress out of seaweed. She makes an entire mermaid costume, finishing it off with a green letter "A" mimicking her mother's scarlet one. Hester chastises Pearl, asking the girl if she understands why her mother has been forced to wear the scarlet letter. Pearl says it's the same reason Dimmesdale puts his hand over his heart, but when pressed she can't explain what she means. This leads Hester to ruminate, once again, on Pearl's strange behavior. Even her displays of affection is hard to predict, and Hester never knows when Pearl will be kind to her and when she'll ignore her entirely. She loves her daughter anyway.

Pearl asks her mother point blank what the scarlet letter means. She asks again and again, but Hester refuses to explain.

Two examples of this literary device can be found in the line "...a face that haunted men's memories longer than they liked."
Hawthorne personifies an April breeze as a small child, "which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of moods, and chills oftener than caresses you." In this, he characterizes Pearl's love for her mother as a fleeting, mercurial thing, subject to all manner of changes and likely to disappear at any moment.
The Green Letter. Pearl fashions this letter out of eelgrass, making it "freshly green" instead of scarlet. Though Hester declares that it has "no purport" (no meaning), Pearl clearly intends it as a subversion of the original letter's meaning. Its green color links it to nature, growth, and beauty instead of sin, shame, and fire. Thus, Hester's "sin" of adultery is reimagined as a perfectly natural and understandable mistake.
Love. Hawthorne's focus in this chapter is on the relationship between Hester and Pearl. He spends a great deal of time investigating the nature of Pearl's love for her mother, likening it to an April breeze that comes and goes unpredictably. Hester's love, on the other hand, is that of a mother who thinks of her child as both a blessing and a burden. She loves Pearl endlessly, but fears for her soul constantly. No doubt this kind of love is familiar to Christian parents.
Nature. Once again, Hawthorne likens Pearl to an animal by calling her "wild." Her childish curiosity, elfin beauty, and propensity for violence all contribute to her animal nature, making her seem alternately savage, petulant, and innocent. Like the natural world, Pearl cannot truly be tamed. She also feels a strong affinity with other animals, and though she throws rocks at the sea-fowl she's upset when she injures one. One could argue that Pearl's "wild" behavior stems from her inability to understand the consequences of her actions. Once could also argue that Pearl merely appears wild because she isn't repressed like the other Puritans.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Hester decides to speak to Dimmesdale. However, because of her social standing, she can't approach him directly about their secret. It takes days for her to arrange a meeting. Finally, she learns that he's going to be returning from a trip that afternoon and she'll be able cross paths with him in the woods. On the way there, Pearl makes the callous observation that the sun "does not love" Hester and won't shine on her. Pearl dances around, enjoying the sun.

Pearl asks Hester to tell her a story about the "Black Man," or the Devil. She has heard a story about witches like old Mistress Hibbins meeting with the Black Man in the woods and performing various satanic rituals. There are rumors that Hester participates in these rituals, but she denies them. Hester and Pearl walk hand in hand toward a babbling brook. Hester asks the girl to play while she talks to Dimmesdale, who is coming up the road, looking miserable.

There are two prominent examples of alliteration in the line: "the sportive sunlight—feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pensiveness of the day."
Pearl personifies the sunshine when she says it "does not love" Hester. This implies that nature itself has been biased against Hester because of the scarlet letter. This may, of course, simply be a product of Puritan superstitions.
Hawthorne uses a simile when he describes the babbling of a brook as sounding "like the voice of a young child." This gives the natural world human qualities, just as the similes equating Pearl with a bird give the human girl animal qualities.
The Devil's Book. This book is a symbol of the Black Man's (Devil's) power. Typically, when someone sells their soul, they must sign their name in this book. Presumably, the book includes a ledger of the souls that have been signed over to the Devil. It's unclear what else can be found inside the book.
Devil Worship. Puritans and many other Christians believe(d) that it's possible to sell one's soul to Satan. In the 17th Century, when this novel is set, stories spread of women (witches) communing with the Devil in the forests of New England. Most often, these stories of the Devil made reference to a "book," in which the Devil kept records of the souls under his control. Selling one's soul typically meant signing said book, thus entering into a contract with the devil. It's unclear what else takes place during this devil worship.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

Hester and Dimmesdale cross paths on the road. They sit together on a patch of moss in the woods, where they engage in simple small talk until they feel strong enough to tackle the big issues. Finally, the minister asks Hester, "Hast thou found peace?" She smiles drearily. Neither of them have found peace, and Dimmesdale suspects that he never will. His good work in the church has only made him more miserable, because he thinks it makes him a hypocrite. He wishes he could wear a scarlet letter on his clothes like Hester does. None of the people who claim to adore him know who he really is.

Hester reminds Dimmesdale that he isn't alone in his suffering. These seven years, she has borne the burden of their secret, and she understands his guilt and pain. In spite of her degradation in the eyes of the public, she has never fallen out of love with him. She feels that she must be truthful with him now: Chillingworth is her former husband, and she has allowed Dimmesdale to live with the enemy. She begs his forgiveness, and he in turn begs her to save him from Chillingworth.

Hester's plan is simple: leave Boston. Get on a boat and sail to Europe. Dimmesdale doesn't think he has the strength for it, but Hester insists.
Hawthorne has been dropping hints about the letter Dimmesdale has carved into his chest, but none quite so clear as when the minister himself speaks of Hester's scarlet letter and says, "Mine burns in secret!" From this, we can safely assume that the wound is infected and will cause his death.
Dimmesdale uses the idiom "in cold blood" to describe Chillingworth's actions against him.
When Hester and Dimmesdale meet on the path, they're described as two spirits. "Each a ghost, and awe-stricken at the other ghost." Their ghostly figures appear stripped of all life and vitality, making them mere shadows of their former selves. Though Hester attempts to revive them both, this effort is ultimately unsuccessful.
Light and Dark. In the previous chapter, Hawthorne established that the sunlight "does not love" Hester. This builds on the motif of light and dark, which has been subtly woven through the entire novel but hasn't been brought to the forefront that often. Here, the darkness of the forest in which Hester and Dimmesdale walk stands in stark contrast to the bright sunlight that shined on Pearl. This darkness represents the danger and the sin in their lives, whereas the light represents goodness and virtue.
Guilt. Though Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale are both guilty of the crime of adultery, their experiences of that guilt are very different. Hester has borne half of it in public (in the shape of the scarlet letter) and half of it in private (in her knowledge of Dimmesdale's identity), whereas Dimmesdale has lived with his guilt almost entirely in secret, feeling misunderstood by everyone around him. This chapter is notable for including what may be the only act of forgiveness in the novel: Dimmesdale forgiving Hester for keeping Chillingworth's identity a secret. No other sin has been forgiven.
Peace. For Hester and Dimmesdale, "peace" means "peace of mind." It means both forgiving yourself and accepting the fact that others might not be able to forgive you. Neither of them can do that, in large part because they've never repented for all their sins. Both of them have kept the identity of Pearl's father a secret, and neither of them can achieve peace until his name is revealed.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

Dimmesdale inwardly debates leaving Boston with Hester. On the one hand, he feels he must suffer for his crimes. On the other, he knows that he's already doomed, so why not seek comfort in Hester while he has the chance. While he's debating, Hester makes the decision. He will go. The thought of it fills him with joy, which he didn't think was possible. In her happiness, Hester briefly takes off the scarlet letter and throws it into the grass. Freed of its weight, Hester lets down her long, flowing hair for the first time in years. Her love for the minister is obvious.

Hester wants her, Pearl, and Dimmesdale to be a family. He doesn't know how to be a father and has long been afraid of Pearl, but brightens at the thought of getting to know the little girl. She seems so happy and carefree while playing in the woods. Many of the animals are friendly toward her, and it's said that a wolf allowed her to pet its head. She plays in the forest for a long time before her mother calls her back.

A good example of alliteration can be found in the line, "Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places." This alliteration emphasizes the relationship between heart and home.
Hawthorne uses a metaphor when he writes, "The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread." This passport grants her entry into metaphorical regions of the mind (shame, despair, solitude) that other women would avoid. In effect, these emotional regions are real places that Hester visits and comes to know.
One example of a simile from this chapter can be found in the description of the scarlet letter, which glitters "like a lost jewel" after Hester takes it off. This simile emphasizes both the vivid color of the letter and the fact that Hester has treasured its presence, just as she has treasured Pearl's.
Hester's Hair. Hester's long, beautiful hair is a symbol of her sexuality. When it's hidden underneath her cap, she's passionless and repressed. In contrast, when her hair's down, she's full of love and desire. One could also argue that Hester is free when she has her hair down.
Love. There have been many kinds of love in the novel: physical love, motherly love, the love of God. For the most part, Hawthorne has avoided discussing sex, no doubt because of the Puritanical restriction against premarital and extramarital sex in this society. In this chapter, however, love and passion are brought to the forefront, and Hester's desire for the minister seems to bring her back to life. The love between them makes their plan to leave Boston feasible. Unfortunately, this love isn't strong enough to overpower Dimmesdale's guilt and self-loathing.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

Hester tells Dimmesdale that he will learn to love Pearl as her father. He has been afraid of showing any affection or special consideration toward her, because of their situation, but he must admit she's a beautiful child. For the first time, he and Hester look upon her together as her parents. Hester calls Pearl over to speak to Dimmesdale, but Pearl hesitates. For seven years, Pearl has been her mother's only companion, and she's confused by the sudden presence of Dimmesdale in their lives. Instead of heeding her mother's call, she stands on the opposite side of the brook, staring at her parents. Seeing the scarlet letter in the grass, Pearl points at Hester's chest, furious. Pearl stamps her feet and throws a terrible tantrum until Hester finally picks up the scarlet letter and pins it to her clothes. "Now thou art my mother indeed!" Pearl cries, as if she didn't recognize her mother without the letter.

Finally, Pearl comes to her mother's side, kissing Hester, then kissing the scarlet letter. Dimmesdale likewise kisses Pearl on the forehead, but Pearl, jealous of his relationship with Hester and irritated by his refusal to stand with them in public that day, runs to the brook and washes off the kiss. This is the end of their "interview," which can be thought of as an audition where Dimmesdale and Pearl try out the roles of father and daughter.


Hawthorne personifies the babbling brook as one with a "little heart" that collects sad tales.
When Hester calls to Pearl, she shouts, "Thou canst leap like a young deer!" This simile again likens the girl to an animal, emphasizing her wildness and, in this case, her youthful grace.
The Brook. This brook marks the symbolic divide between the wild natural world Pearl inhabits and the solemn real world of her parents. When Hester removed the scarlet letter, she made that solemn real world a brighter, happier place where Hester's passionate nature becomes obvious. Pearl balks at this change and refuses to cross the brook unless Hester puts on the scarlet letter. In effect, Pearl refuses to allow her mother to enter the wild natural world of freedom and emotion. She insists that Hester surrender to the weight of the scarlet letter. One could argue that Pearl's behavior here is partly responsible for what happens in the following chapters.
Pearl. In this chapter, Hawthorne builds on Pearl's previously established symbolism by describing her as a "hieroglyphic" in which the secret of her father's true identity is hidden. Like real hieroglyphics, one needs only to find the key to translating its message. In this case, the key is probably the way Hester and Dimmesdale look at Pearl when they're together.
The Supernatural. There are many places in this chapter where the theme of the supernatural appears: in Pearl's strange behavior and wild nature, in Dimmesdale's request that Hester control Pearl by any means necessary (except witchcraft), and in the scarlet letter itself. When Hester puts on the scarlet letter, her passion, beauty, and warmth fade, "as if there were a withering spell" on the letter. It's painfully clear that she has internalized the shame and repression of the letter to the point of being physically altered by it.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Dimmesdale takes his leave of Hester and Pearl. He tries to focus on the plan: there's a boat docked in Boston harbor that plans to leave in four days, and Hester, who knows the captain because of her charity work, will secure them passage across the Atlantic. Dimmesdale need only have faith in the plan and be strong until they can leave. Unfortunately, he still has duties as the minister, and before he can leave he must deliver the Election Sermon. This does not bother him at first, because he feels invigorated by his meeting with Hester. He walks faster. Breathes easier. Seems full of life.

Dimmesdale thinks he's a changed man. He repudiates his past weakness and cowardice, distancing himself from the man he used to be. When he speaks with the deacon, the minister struggles to hold his tongue and refrain from saying vile, sinful things. When he speaks with an old widow, he cannot remember any lines of scripture and doesn't remember what he whispers in her ear. When he sees a young, beautiful member of his flock in the street, he thinks of shooting her an evil glance and then following it with a snide remark. Instead, he covers his face with his cloak.

When Dimmesdale feels the urge to teach a group of children some curse words, he starts rethinking his plan to leave with Hester. Just then, Mistress Hibbins happens to walk by, wearing a velvet gown and an elaborate headdress. She has heard of his visit to the forest (though not of Hester's plan), and she assumes that he was communing with the Black Man or Devil. She offers to accompany him on his next visit. He refuses, of course, but this only amuses her.

Following his meeting with Mistress Hibbins, Dimmesdale becomes convinced that Hester's plan is actually a deal with the Devil. He rushes home, where he finds a half-written sermon still sitting on his desk. Seeing it, he realizes that he has been tempted by the Devil and come back a changed man, wiser than before. As if on cue, Chillingworth enters the room, asking Dimmesdale about his travels and his health. Surprisingly, the minister refuses the medicines offered by Chillingworth. This leads the physician to realize that he has been identified as an enemy. Neither of them directly address the issue, however. Chillingworth leaves, and Dimmesdale sits down to eat and write a new sermon.

Moses. A Biblical figure famed for parting the Red Sea and leading the Jews out of Egypt, where they were enslaved for centuries. Hawthorne alludes to Moses to underscore how important Moses' words are to Dimmesdale.
Sir Thomas Overbury (1581 - 1613). For more information about Sir Thomas Overbury, see Chapter 9 Analysis: Allusions.
Anne Turner (1576 - 1615). Anne Turner was the widow of a respected English doctor. She hid behind this veil of respectability while hiding her sinful ways, which included running a "house of ill-repute" (a hotel where couples, married and unmarried, could have their affairs in private). Turner's business made it easy for her to procure various poisons, including those which reportedly killed Sir Thomas Overbury. For her part in the murder, Turner was tried, convicted, and hanged.
Chillingworth uses a metaphor when he says a good man's prayers "are the current gold of the New Jerusalem." This equates prayer with a kind of spiritual wealth that enriches the faithful as a whole.
Hawthorne describes one young maiden as being just as "pair and pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise." This simile emphasizes her holiness and presumed virginity.
Change. Dimmesdale undergoes a remarkable change at the beginning of this chapter. His decision to sail to Europe with Hester fills him with renewed vigor, making it possible for him to walk through Boston without having to stop and catch his breath. His change isn't merely physical, however. He's flooded with thoughts and desires (to use curse words, to laugh at his colleagues) he never would've allowed himself to have before. Unfortunately, this change is temporary. He begins to interpret the change as the work of the Devil, and so he regresses to his former self. In the end, Dimmesdale doesn't change at all, except to become more determined to die for his sins.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

Boston celebrates the inauguration of Massachusetts' new Governor with a holiday. Hester and Pearl join their neighbors in the marketplace, where everyone has gathered. Pearl doesn't understand it's a holiday and dislikes the fact that the jailer smiles at her. Once again, she asks Hester if Dimmesdale will take her hand, and once again Hester tells her no. This is not the time for Dimmesdale to reveal his true identity. This is a Puritan holiday, and though it isn't gloomy, exactly, there isn't much in the way of revelry. Just a bit of wrestling and sport to entertain the masses.

In attendance at the celebration are a group of Native Americans, who wear traditional clothing and behave in a respectable manner, and a rowdy bunch of sailors, who get drunk and behave terribly in front of everyone. The captain of that sailing ship wears a gaudy outfit with gold ribbons and flaunts his wealth in front of the Puritans, who would be vilified if they wore such an outfit. Oddly enough, Chillingworth accompanies the ship's captain, looking old and haggard next to the younger, grander figure. It turns out that he has secured passage on the very same ship as Hester and Dimmesdale. He intends to accompany them to Europe and torment the minister forever.

A good example of this can be found in the line, "as if a good and golden year were at length to pass over the poor old world." Hawthorne uses alliteration in this sentence to emphasize the goodness to come and contrast it with the past.
The Elizabethan Age. The age of wealth and progress brought about by Queen Elizabeth I of England. For more on Queen Elizabeth, see Chapter 2 Analysis: Allusions.
King James I (1566 - 1626). For more on King James I, see Chapter 8 Analysis: Allusions.
Clothing. Hawthorne uses clothing to develop all his characters. In previous chapters, we saw Hester's scarlet letter relegate her to a life of passionless austerity, while Dimmesdale's black glove became a symbol of his secret sin. One could argue that the level of austerity in one's clothing directly corresponds to the amount of freedom each character has. Hester, for instance, has no freedom under the rule of the scarlet letter. The shipmaster, however, has all the freedom in the world, as we can see in his choice of clothing.
The Shipmaster's Gold Ribbons. These gold ribbons are symbols not just of the shipmaster's wealth but of the freedom to flaunt that wealth without fear of being subject to Boston's puritanical laws. He's a sailor, which means he has the right to live and dress as he wants, unlike Hester.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

Hester joins the procession heading for the meeting house, where Dimmesdale is set to deliver his Election Sermon. Magistrates and soldiers alike join this procession, and Hawthorne praises them for their nobility, their grace, and their upstanding service to the colony, though he does admit that none of them appear as bright as statesmen Bellingham, Bradstreet, Endicott, and Dudley, who all served as Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at some point, often multiple times.

Reverend Dimmesdale walks with the magistrates, looking positively energetic. Hester looks at him then and realizes that he's no longer the man who sat with her, murmuring and confused, by the little babbling brook in Chapter 19. She can't forgive him for abandoning them. Even Pearl is shocked by the changes in the minister. She wonders aloud what would've happened if she'd asked the Reverend to kiss her on the forehead as he did before.

Meanwhile, Mistress Hibbins has made her way through the procession to Hester. Suspecting her of being a witch, the crowd gives Mistress Hibbins a wide berth and allows her to approach Hester and Pearl. The old witch wants to talk about the fact that Dimmesdale went for a walk in the woods—an unholy place where witches like Mistress Hibbins are said to commune with the Devil. Hester won't hear anything against Dimmesdale, and finally the old witch leaves, cackling.

When the procession arrives at the meeting house, the crowd proves too large to fit inside it. Hester and Pearl are forced to find a spot outside where they can listen to Dimmesdale's sermon. His voice proves to quiet, however, and they aren't able to hear every word; but Hester understand the emotion in his voice. Pearl meanwhile grows bored with the sermon and starts to frolic around the market. If the Puritans had any doubt about her being a demon child, those doubts vanish as Pearl plays.

Unaware of the consequences of her actions, Pearl approaches the Native Americans and the sailors in turn. Seeing her beauty, the shipmaster gives her a gold chain and asks her to take a message back to her mother: that Chillingworth has arranged to pay for Dimmesdale's passage on the boat and that Hester need not worry herself about the money. He makes the mistake of calling Pearl a witch-baby, however, and she threatens to have the Devil curse his boat. Nevertheless, she delivers the message.

Finally, the Puritans grow bored with the sermon and began to torment Hester, like always.

Richard Bellingham (1592 - 1672). An English barrister who moved to the New World and served several terms as the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Simon Bradstreet (1603 - 1697). Another colonial magistrate, Bradstreet was the final Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
John Endicott (1601 - 1664). A prominent statesman and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Thomas Dudley (1576 - 1653). Like the other men Hawthorne alludes to in this chapter, Dudley was a magistrate who served as the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He founded the city that would become Cambridge.
House of Peers. Another name for the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament in the United Kingdom.
The Knights Templar. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or the Knights Templar, was a very wealthy, powerful military order that played a significant role in Christian finance and the Church in the Middle Ages. When the Knights and their fellow crusaders lost control of the Holy Land during the Crusades, the Knights Templar fell out of favor. Many of their members were burned at the stake before the group finally disbanded. Hawthorne alludes to them to aggrandize the soldiers in Boston.
Privy Council of the Sovereign. The Privy Council of England was a powerful group of advisors (many of whom served in the Houses of Parliament) who guided the Sovereign in the use of royal charters. The Privy Council also had some judicial powers. Hawthorne alludes to them to suggest that the magistrates present at the procession have proven themselves capable of serving on councils as powerful as this.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

Dimmesdale finally finishes his sermon. Discussing it amongst themselves, his parishioners declare that his was a brilliant speech and that he's the holiest man to ever live in New England. He himself thinks exactly the opposite, and the disproportionate amount of admiration he receives in this scene leads him to at last reveal his secret. He calls Hester and Pearl to his side, ignoring Chillingworth's claim that he's acting like a madman. He climbs to the scaffold, where he declares that Hester is not the only sinner in their midst. He himself bears a scarlet letter, which he reveals in dramatic fashion by tearing open his shirt. There, the entire crowd can see the A carved into his skin.

Weakened by his outburst, Dimmesdale falls down. Hester rushes to him and cradles his head in her arms one last time. Before he dies, he prays that God will forgive Chillingworth's sins, as well as his own. Pearl then kisses her father on the lips, crying over him as he speaks his dying words: that God has shown mercy by forcing them to suffer for their sins in life and that they may still be reunited in the afterlife. With that, he bids her farewell.

It's no accident that Dimmesdale's sudden confession takes place on the same spot of Hester's public humiliation. Hawthorne uses this parallelism to both align and misalign his main characters, binding them together in their sin but differentiating them by the effect that sin has had on their lives.
Hawthorne describes the blush fading from Dimmesdale's hot cheeks "like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers." This fading of color corresponds to a fading of energy and passion that leaves the Reverend weak and frail.
The Scaffold. Once again, Hawthorne uses the scaffold as a symbol of guilt and shame. When Dimmesdale climbs onto it to make his confession, he's attempting to recreate the scene of public humiliation in Chapter 2. He feels that he should've been labeled a sinner right then, alongside Hester. His failure to reveal himself earlier leads to his death.
Family. Little attention has been paid to the fact that Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale form an unconventional family. In effect, Dimmesdale is the estranged father, Hester the single mother, and Pearl the bastard child born out of wedlock. These are untraditional but not uncommon roles, which Dimmesdale and Hester have chosen for themselves out of fear and shame. This separation makes them miserable. In the content of this novel, their only hope of earthly happiness is to unite as a family. Unfortunately, this proves impossible.

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis

The Puritans of Boston have many different theories about what happened to Dimmesdale that day. Some believe it was a kind of penance for his sins. Others believe he was under the spell of the evil Roger Chillingworth, who caused the scarlet letter to appear on his chest. And still others claim that no such letter even existed. Regardless of what they think, the fact of the matter is that Dimmesdale is dead and that, soon after the minister's death, Chillingworth seemed to lose his reason to live and gradually faded away.

Chillingworth's death turns out to be a boon for Pearl, who inherits his fortune. She and Hester leave Boston, but do remain in the New World. In their absence, many different stories circulate about the scarlet letter, and a kind of legend forms around it and Hester; then, years later, Hester unexpectedly returns to her shack in the outskirts of Boston. She doesn't bring Pearl, and no one knows why. They do know that Hester lives in comfort, wearing the scarlet letter, yes, but possessing luxury items that suggest she has a suitor or wealthy benefactor. When she dies, she's buried next to Dimmesdale, and they share a tombstone.

Penance. It's important to distinguish between the themes of penance and guilt. Guilt refers to shame or to the fact of having committed a crime, whereas penance refers to the various acts that one must perform to pay for or make up for one's sins. These things are separate, and one does not necessarily require the other. It's impossible to know if Hester feels guilty at the end of the novel. One could argue that her return to Boston is a way of being closer to Dimmesdale, with whom she hopes to be reunited in the afterlife.