The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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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 entire section is 675 words.)