At a Glance
- Hester Prynne wears the scarlet letter "A" as punishment for her adultery.
- Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is Hester's former lover and the father of her child.
- Pearl is the elf-like daughter of Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale.
- Roger Chillingworth is Hester's husband, who torments Dimmesdale after discovering his identity.
- Governor Bellingham is the leader of the Massachusetts Colony.
The main character of The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, is a beautiful young woman who readers first witness standing on the scaffolding of the town pillory. Hester is a widow who has been accused of committing adultery and having a child out of wedlock. (Read our extended character analysis of Hester Prynne.)
Arthur Dimmesdale is the town minister of Puritan Boston. He is Hester’s previous lover and Pearl’s father. Whereas Hester wears her shame publicly through the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale keeps his shame private. His secret—and the resultant guilt he feels—manifests in him physically. He becomes weak, pale, and enfeebled. (Read our extended character analysis of Arthur Dimmesdale.)
Roger Chillingworth’s name fits the coldness and malevolence of his character. The hunchbacked Chillingworth is Hester Prynne’s husband, a man Hester believed was killed by Native Americans. However, at the beginning of the story, Chillingworth returns to Boston the day Hester is released from jail and faces public torment on the pillory. (Read our extended character analysis of Roger Chillingworth.)
Pearl is Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale’s daughter. Pearl lives on the outskirt of town with her mother, ostracized by the rest of the children in the community for her mother’s sin of adultery. Perhaps because of this ostracization, Pearl develops a close connection with nature, and Hawthorne frequently associates Pearl with sunlight and the forest. Hester dresses Pearl in radiantly colored clothes, which seem to mimic the ornate scarlet letter and stand in sharp contrast to her own clothes. Her character represents the archetype of the innocent, free-spirited, and innately good child which the Romantic authors often wrote about in their poems and novels.
Considered by many of the townspeople as a “demon offspring,” Pearl is like an “elf-child”—curious, wild, independent, and unafraid of authority. Mature beyond her years, Pearl questions the world around her. Even at a young age, she is drawn to Hester’s scarlet letter and frequently touches it, even putting it back in place when it falls. When she meets Dimmesdale in the forest, she questions his intentions. He kisses her on the forehead, and she runs to the brook to wash it off, demonstrating her rejection of authority.
At the end of the novel, the seven-year-old Pearl transforms. Dimmesdale collapses on the scaffolding, and Pearl finally accepts him as her father. She kisses his lips, and “a spell [is] broken.” The narrator declares that Pearl would “grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it.” From a defiant young “elf-child,” Pearl transforms into a woman, marries into nobility, and moves to Europe.
Governor Bellingham is the stern governor of the Massachusetts colony and is based on the historical figure of Governor Richard Bellingham, who presided over the English colony in 1641, 1654, and 1655 and held powerful positions when not acting as governor. Hawthorne describes Bellingham as stern and...
(The entire section is 792 words.)