The Scarlet Letter Characters
The main characters in The Scarlet Letter are Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl, Roger Chillingworth, and Governor Bellingham.
- Hester Prynne wears the scarlet letter A as punishment for her adultery and refuses to identify the father of her child.
- Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is Hester's former lover and the father of her child.
- Pearl is the elf-like daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale.
- Roger Chillingworth is the assumed name of Hester's husband, Mr. Prynne, who torments Dimmesdale after discovering his identity as Hester’s former lover.
- Governor Bellingham is the leader of the Massachusetts colony.
Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 178
The main character of The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, is a beautiful young woman whom 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.)
Last Updated on October 22, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272
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.
Last Updated on October 22, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 90
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 uses him to illustrate how "religion and law were almost identical."
This minor character attempts to separate Pearl from her mother, who he believes is incapable of caring for Pearl because of her “badge of shame.” Dimmesdale argues otherwise, and Hester and Pearl are not separated.
Last Updated on October 22, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 81
Mistress Hibbins is based on the historical Ann Hibbins, a Bostonian woman who was hanged for witchcraft in 1656. In the novel, she is Governor Bellingham’s sister and makes several short appearances. She encourages Hester and Dimmesdale to join the “Black Man,” a representative of the devil, and is later executed for witchcraft. Though her role in the novel is not substantial, the character's grounding in historical reality serves to remind readers of the power that Puritans had to regulate behavior.
Last Updated on October 22, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 47
John Wilson is based on the historical Puritan minister of the same name who arrived to the American colonies in 1630. Early in the novel, Minister Wilson urges Dimmesdale to ask Hester to identify Pearl’s father, and later in the novel, he asks Pearl questions about religion.
Last Updated on October 22, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 59
The Goodwives is a collective term for several women who gather to discuss Hester's situation. For the most part, they are ungenerous in their attitude toward Hester, believing that the magistrates did not give her proper punishment—such as branding or execution. The only exception in the Goodwives' collective feelings is a "young wife" who feels pity for Hester.
Last Updated on October 22, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 63
The shipmaster dresses in bright, ostentatious garments, which stand in contrast to the clothing of the Puritans. He carries a sword and uses his hat to cover a scar on his forehead. He captains the ship on which Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl hope to sail for Europe; however, their plans are foiled by Chillingworth. The shipmaster is affable and is charmed by Pearl.
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