Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis

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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 seems to lose his reason to live and gradually fades 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.

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Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis