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Chapter 1

A prison door is surrounded by a group of Puritan settlers. They are
dressed in dark, simple clothing, and wear serious expressions. Just to the
side of the door is a single wild rose bush, covered with flowers because
it is June, rose season:
“On one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a
wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems,
which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the
prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to
his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to
him.” Chapter 1, pg. 46.

| |
|Chapter 2|
|The townspeople talk about the prison’s captive, a woman named|
|Hester Prynne, who is being held for the crime of adultery. She|
|leaves the prison with her three-month old daughter (the proof of|
|her sin), Pearl, and proceeds through a throng of whispering people |
|to the town scaffolds, where she will stand for the entire morning, |
|until an hour past meridian.|
|She is not put in the stocks, but rather holds her daughter and|
|stands alone for all to see. Being marked a sinner and displayed|
|before the town is part of her punishment. |
|The townspeople get a first glimpse of the Scarlet Letter, ‘A’ for |
|Adultery, which Hester will be forced to wear from that day forward.|
|The townspeople are both impressed by the skill of the embroidery|
|and shocked by its beauty.|
|”On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an|
|elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, |
|appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much|
|fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the|
|effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she|
|wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of|
|the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary |
|regulations of the colony.” Chapter 2, pg. 50.|
|The Scarlet Letter is in sharp contrast to the traditional clothing |
|of the Puritan settlers. During this ordeal, Hester recounts in her |
|head memories of life before she left England for the colonies – her|
|father, her deceased mother, and a scholar with a deformed shoulder |
|- the left one slightly higher than the right, a man later|
|identified as Roger Chillingworth. It appears that this man was her |
| |
|Chapter 3|
|Still on display in the Town Square, Hester notices, at the edge of |
|the crowd, a man with one shoulder higher than the other standing|
|with a Native-American. “When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne|
|fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he |
|slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the |
|air, and laid it on his lips.” Chapter 3, pg. 57. |
|The man, who later identifies himself as Roger Chillingworth, then |
|approaches a townsman to ask what crime Hester has committed. The|
|man explains to Chillingworth that Hester is guilty of Adultery,|
|but, although the sentence for such a crime is death, she has not|
|been condemned to such a harsh sentence.|
|There are two main reasons for this. First of all, she refuses to|
|identify the man with whom she committed this crime. Secondly, she |
|came to this country alone, leaving her much-respected husband to|
|study in Amsterdam, and nothing has been heard of him since. Many|
|assume that he drowned on his voyage across the Atlantic. This|
|assumption, along with the knowledge that she is good-looking, and |
|was therefore more susceptible to this type of sin, caused the|
|magistrates to give her a light sentence. Chillingworth, without|
|revealing his identity in any way, comments that the decision not to|
|kill Hester was a wise one. He also repeats, three times, “he will |
|be known.” Chapter 3, pg. 59, indicating that he intends to uncover |
|the secret of the man who committed this crime with Hester.|
|Meanwhile, Hester does not take her eyes from Chillingworth, whom|
|she is glad she first encounters among a crowd. She thinks to |
|herself that she would be afraid to meet him alone.|
|The day continues with Governor Bellingham, the governor of the|
|Massachusetts Colony during this period, speaking to Hester from a |
|high balcony overlooking the town square. He begins by gesturing to |
|a pale young man who is sitting beside him. The young man is |
|Hester’s preacher, Reverend Dimmesdale. He asks Reverend Dimmesdale |
|to make Hester tell the crowd who her partner in this crime was.|
|After a pause, Dimmesdale rises and makes an impassioned speech|
|begging Hester to name her partner. At the end of the speech, which |
|is very dramatic and moving, Hester’s daughter reaches her arms|
|towards the preacher and murmurs in response to his speech. The|
|Reverend Wilson, another local clergy man, asks Hester to name the |
|man as well, and therefore be allowed to take the Scarlet Letter off|
|her breast. Still, Hester refuses to name him “‘Never!’ Replied|
|Hester Prynne, looking not at Mr. Wilson, but into the deep and|
|troubled eyes of the younger clergyman Dimmesdale. ‘It is too|
|deeply branded. Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure|
|his agony, as well as mine!'” Chapter 3, pg. 64. |
|At the appointed time, Hester returns to her jail cell. Some |
|townspeople who watch her enter the darkness of the jail claim that |
|the Scarlet Letter glows in the dark. |
Chapter 4
That evening in the jail cell, Hester is in a nervous and hyper state. Her
daughter is screaming as well. Master Brackett, the jailer, is worried
about the health of his inmates, and decides to bring a physician to see
them. Roger Chillingworth, who had arrived earlier in the day, had nowhere
to stay that night, and so had been housed in the jail. He had introduced
himself as a physician by trade, and mentioned that he had learned a number
of valuable treatments from the Indians, in addition to his European
training. Brackett brings Chillingworth to Hester’s jail cell, and then
leaves them alone. Chillingworth examines the baby, mixes a medicinal
drink, and hands it to Hester, so that she may feed the baby. Chillingworth
refuses to feed the baby because he is not the father. Hester fears that
Chillingworth is intending to kill the child, but he reassures her that he
is not. After drinking the medicine, Pearl quiets down immediately.

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| |
|Chapter 5|
|Hester is released from prison. She prepares to enter the world and |
|maintain a strength that was hard to find while on the town|
|scaffold–now she must remain strong in the face of the |
|townspeople’s open hostility. Hester recognizes that, with her|
|scarlet letter, she will be a public and open example of sin for|
|many people. The Narrator entertains the question of why Hester|
|chose to remain in Boston and accept her punishment, rather than|
|escape, with Pearl, to Europe, where she could live anonymously, and|
|not have to wear the Scarlet Letter: |
|”But there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable |
|that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human|
|beings to linger around and haunt, ghostlike, the spot where some|
|great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime; and|
|still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.” |
|Chapter 5, pg. 73. |
|Also, the Narrator considers the idea that Hester may remain there |
|because she feels tied in a silent bond to the man with whom she|
|committed the sin of adultery. Hester remains in Boston, and goes to|
|live on a remote peninsula of the town in an abandoned cottage where|
|the land is too sterile to support a family. Hester’s only skill is |
|that of needlework and embroidery. This is the manner in which she |
|supports herself and her daughter. Although Puritan dress is |
|typically very simple and has very little decoration, there are|
|certain events that call for elaborate embroidery and decoration.|
|Ordinations, installations of public officers, clothing the dead and|
|newborns all were events which called for Hester’s services – the|
|most important life cycle events in the colony. “But it is not|
|recorded that, in a single instance, her skill was called in aid to |
|embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a|
|bride.” Chapter 5, pg. 76.|
|Hester spends very little of the money she makes on herself, but|
|sews very beautiful, fancy, imaginative and bright dresses for her |
|daughter. She also gives much of her left over money to people in|
|more need than herself. But because of the Scarlet Letter, she does |
|not receive any thanks. She is constantly held as an example to the |
|people, and preachers often stop in the street to give impromptu|
|sermons to a gathering crowd about her sin. She will often enter|
|church, only to find that the sermon is about her. This isolation in|
|the middle of a bustling town, allows Hester, she imagines, to see |
|the sin that other people hide. She feels she can detect a certain |
|blush, or sympathetic reaction to the sight of the Scarlet Letter|
|that betrays guilt. The Letter was indeed a suitable punishment–it |
|seemed to the townspeople to burn with an internal fire which glowed|
|in the nighttime.|
| |
|Chapter 6|
|Pearl is a very beautiful little girl, named after a jewel of great |
|price. She is agile and looks perfect, however, her temperament|
|leaves a lot to be desired.|
|”Throughout all, however, there was a trait of passion, a certain|
|depth of hue….The child could not be made amenable to rules….The|
|mother’s impassioned state had been the medium through which were|
|transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and,|
|however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains |
|of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the|
|untempered light of the intervening substance. Above all, the |
|warfare of Hester’s spirit, at that epoch, was perpetuated in |
|Pearl.” Chapter 6, pg. 83.|
|Hester tries to discipline her in a gentle way, much different than |
|the Puritan standard of harsh punishment, but it does not work.|
|Hester finds Pearl all the more difficult because Pearl cannot play |
|with other children.|
|Hester wishes that Pearl could have a relatively normal childhood, |
|but Pearl was born an outcast, and the other children treat her that|
|way. The most difficult thing Hester has to deal with in relation to|
|Pearl is Pearl’s attachment to the Scarlet Letter. As an infant, the|
|first thing Pearl reaches for is the letter, and her fascination|
|with the embroidered square of cloth continues throughout her |
|childhood. One day, Hester playfully suggests to Pearl that she is |
|not Hester’s child. Hester asks her if she came from the Heavenly|
|Father. Pearl says no, and instead asks Hester to tell her where she|
|did come from. Hester never gives Pearl an answer.|
| |
|Chapter 7|
|Hester pays a visit to Governor Bellingham’s house to deliver a pair|
|of embroidered gloves. In addition, Hester makes this trip in the|
|hopes that she can speak to Governor Bellingham about Pearl. There |
|has been some talk in Boston about taking Pearl away from Hester,|
|for fear that Hester is not educating her properly, and subjecting |
|her to bad influences because of her crime. Pearl comes with Hester,|
|wearing a bright red dress with gold embroidery that Hester has|
|made. It is made of the same materials and in the same colors as the|
|Scarlet Letter. “There was a fire in her Pearl and throughout her;|
|she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment.”|
|Chapter 7, pg. 93. |
| |
|The sun is shining, and Pearl asks Hester if she may strip it off|
|the house and gather it for herself. “‘No, my little Pearl!’ said|
|her mother. ‘Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to|
|give thee!'” Chapter 7, pg. 95. Hester and Pearl wait for Governor |
|Bellingham, who approaches from the garden with the Reverend Wilson,|
|the Reverend Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. |
Chapter 8
The meeting between these two groups of people becomes tense. The four men
see Pearl first, and ask her who she is. “‘I am my mother’s child,’
answered the scarlet vision, ‘and my name is Pearl!'” Chapter 8, pg. 101.

They call her “Ruby,” “Coral,” and “Red Rose” instead.

Governor Bellingham tells Hester that the magistrates think Pearl would be
better served if she were taken from Hester, put in darker, less outrageous
clothes, and given daily religious lessons. Hester replies by saying that
the Scarlet Letter has taught her many valuable lessons that she can, and
will, pass on to her daughter. Governor Bellingham asks Pearl who made her,
and where she comes from. Although Pearl has been given lessons in religion
and the Bible by her mother, Pearl refuses to answer correctly. “After
putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer
good Mr. Wilson’s questions, the child finally announced that she had not
been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild
roses that grew by the prison-door.” Chapter 8, pg. 103. Roger
Chillingworth smiles at this response, and Hester notices at this moment
that his facial features have changed – his face looks darker and more
misshapen than before.

Governor Bellingham concludes from Pearl’s answer that she must be taken
from Hester. Hester responds violently to this suggestion, and, in her
fury, turns suddenly to the Reverend Dimmesdale, who was her pastor.

“‘Speak thou for me!’ cried she. ‘Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of
my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the
child! Speak for me! Thou knowest, – for thou hast sympathies which these
men lack! – thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’s
rights, and how much the stronger they are, when that mother has but her
child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child!
Look to it!'” Chapter 8, pg. 104.

Dimmesdale responds with a solid argument for Hester to keep Pearl, saying
that Pearl is as much a curse – a constant reminder – as she is a blessing.

Pearl responds to this argument by approaching Dimmesdale, taking his hand,
and pressing it against her cheek in an uncharacteristically gentle way.

As she leaves Governor Bellingham’s house, Hester is stopped by Mistress
Hibbins, Bellingham’s sister, who, a few years later, is executed as a
witch. Mistress Hibbins invites Hester to join the “Black Man” in the
forest that night, but Hester declines, saying that, with Pearl, she cannot
do any such thing, even if she might want to.

| |
|Chapter 9|
|Roger Chillingworth is the subject of Chapter Nine, entitled “The|
|Leech.” He develops a serious friendship with the Reverend|
|Dimmesdale, who is very weak, pale and sick-looking. Chillingworth |
|begins to act as Dimmesdale’s doctor, and eventually the|
|congregation, at Chillingworth’s suggestion, decides that the two|
|must live together, so that Chillingworth can keep a close eye on|
|Dimmesdale’s health. They move into a widow’s house, and each take |
|half of the first floor for their apartment.|
|”Roger Chillingworth – the man of skill, the kind and friendly|
|physician – strove to go deep into his patient’s bosom, delving|
|among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing|
|everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a dark |
|cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has opportunity |
|and license to undertake such a quest, and skill to follow it up. A |
|man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of |
|his physician.” Chapter 9, pg. 114.|
|Chillingworth senses a secret animal side to Dimmesdale and wishes |
|to reveal it. |
| |
|Chapter 10|
|Chillingworth remains very suspicious of Dimmesdale. He pursues many|
|careful but insistent conversations, trying to find a way to get|
|Dimmesdale to confess to his sin, but also making very sure that he |
|does not let Dimmesdale suspect that Chillingworth is trying to do |
|anything of the sort. Chillingworth senses a secret animal side in |
|Dimmesdale and wishes to reveal it. Dimmesdale, unfortunately,|
|cannot recognize what Chillingworth is doing: “Trusting no man as|
|his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter |
|actually appeared.” Chapter 10, pg. 120.|
|One day Chillingworth returns from a walk to gather herbs and plants|
|with a dark, wilted leaf. Dimmesdale asks him where he found it.|
|”‘Even in the graveyard here at hand….They are new to me. I found |
|them growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, nor other memorial|
|of the dead man, save these ugly weeds, that have taken upon |
|themselves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his heart, |
|and typify, it may be, some hideous secret that was buried with him,|
|and which he had done better to confess during his lifetime.’ |
|’Perchance,’ said Mr. Dimmesdale, ‘he earnestly desired it, but|
|could not.'” Chapter 10, pg. 120.|
|During this conversation, Pearl and Hester approach the cemetery,|
|which Chillingworth’s apartment overlooks. Pearl collects burrs from|
|the side of a grave and sticks them to Hester’s Scarlet Letter. She |
|also throws one at Dimmesdale, who is looking at the two women from |
|a second floor window. This gesture causes Hester to look up as|
|well, and the four people are caught all staring at each other.|
|Pearl breaks the silence by saying, “Come away, mother! Come away, |
|or yonder old Black Man will catch you! He hath got hold of the|
|minister already. Come away, mother, or he will catch you! But he|
|cannot catch little Pearl!” Chapter 10, pg. 123. |
| |
|After Pearl and Hester leave, Chillingworth again tries, this time |
|more directly, to get Dimmesdale to tell him what ails him.|
|Dimmesdale refuses, saying, “But, if it be the soul’s disease, then |
|do I commit myself to the one Physician of the soul!…But who are |
|thou, that meddlest in this matter? – that dares thrust himself|
|between the sufferer and his God?” Chapter 10, pp. 125-6. Dimmesdale|
|runs from the room, and the two men do not speak for days.|
|A few days later, Chillingworth finds Dimmesdale fast asleep in a|
|chair at midday. Chillingworth jumps at this chance to examine|
|Dimmesdale, something he has not been given permission to do at any |
|other time. Chillingworth gently lifts Dimmesdale’s shirt, and takes|
|an extended look at the minister’s chest, then turns away. “But with|
|what a wild look of wonder, job, and horror! With what a ghastly|
|rapture…making itself even riotously manifest by the extravagant |
|gesture with which he threw up his arms towards the ceiling, and|
|stamped his foot upon the floor! Had a man seen old Roger|
|Chillingworth, at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no |
|need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is|
|lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom.” Chapter 10, pg. 127.|
|Chillingworth sees a deep scar that Dimmesdale has carved into his |
|own chest|
Chapter 11
Chillingworth’s discovery changes the way he thinks about his relationship
to Dimmesdale. He now has a plan, and “a quiet depth of malice, hitherto
latent, but active now…which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge
than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy.” Chapter 11, pg. 128.

Dimmesdale senses that there is a dark force operating around him to make
him feel worse, but he cannot tell from where it is coming. Despite the
fact that Dimmesdale finds Chillingworth disgusting, ugly and unsettling in
his physical appearance, he maintains close ties with Chillingworth without
realizing that he may be the source of the evil. Despite all this worrying,
and possibly even because of it, Dimmesdale becomes very popular among his
congregation, who refuse to consider that Dimmesdale, when he calls himself
a sinner, might be telling the truth, as opposed to trying to set a holy
example. In private, Dimmesdale uses a whip to inflict the bloody wound on
his chest that never heals.

In addition, Dimmesdale fasts for days at a time, testing his endurance by
using this traditional Puritan form of penance. During these long fasts he
stays up at night, and begins to hallucinate. He often sees Hester Prynne
and Pearl walking towards him, as Pearl points first to Hester’s Scarlet
Letter and then to Arthur Dimmesdale’s bloody chest. “To the untrue man,
the whole universe is false,- it is impalpable,- it shrinks to nothing
within his grasp….The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a
real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul” Chapter
11, pg. 134. One of these nights, he is seized with an idea. He dresses
carefully for public worship and steps quietly outside.

| |
|Chapter 12|
|Dimmesdale makes his way to the town scaffold where Hester and Pearl|
|had stood many years previous as a part of Hester’s sentence. He|
|climbs the stairs so he is standing where they stood. Because it is |
|a very dark night, and no one is awake, Arthur Dimmesdale feels no |
|fear of being discovered. However, there was one eye that was able |
|to see him – the all-knowing one that was calling to him from the|
|depths. |
|Because he is in such a state of guilt and repentance, Dimmesdale|
|lets out a loud shriek, which echoes through the quiet, sleeping|
|town. He is suddenly convinced that everyone will awake when they|
|hear the sound. There is no reaction, except for two lights, one in |
|Governor Bellingham’s window, and one coming from his sister |
|Mistress Hibbins’ window. After these lights are extinguished,|
|Dimmesdale sees a man, who turns out to be the Reverend Wilson, with|
|a lantern approaching the scaffolds. Although the lantern casts a|
|gleam, it does not reach the scaffold, and Dimmesdale remains |
|undetected. Reverend Wilson had come from the bedside of Governor|
|Winthrop, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who|
|had just passed away. As Reverend Wilson passes, Dimmesdale imagines|
|that he speaks to him, as if the two men were passing in the street |
|during the day and engaged in normal pleasantries.|
|Dimmesdale imagines a very real conversation with Reverend Wilson, |
|but then watches Wilson continue past the scaffolds, not glancing up|
|from his path. Dimmesdale remains standing on the scaffold, suddenly|
|realizing that, because of the chilly night air, he may not be able |
|to walk down the steps of the scaffold until morning, when he is|
|discovered. At this thought, Dimmesdale begins to laugh, and |
|promptly hears a child’s laugh in return. He recognizes Pearl’s|
|voice, and calls after her and her mother. Hester has also been at |
|Governor Winthrop’s deathbed, taking measurements for his burial|
|gown, and she had her daughter with her. Mr. Dimmesdale calls to the|
|two women, saying “Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl. Ye|
|have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither |
|once again, and we will stand all three together!” Chapter 12, pg. |
|Dimmesdale takes Pearl’s hand, which sends a new rush of energy|
|through the minister’s body. As they stand on the scaffold, Pearl|
|asks Dimmesdale if he will stand with the two of them like this|
|tomorrow at noon. He says no, but that one day he will indeed stand |
|there with the two of them. He then goes on to say that Judgment Day|
|will be when they stand together, but never in this world will they |
|do so. Pearl responds with a laugh. At that moment, a meteor streaks|
|across the sky, throwing a red streak across the sky that lights up |
|the whole town square. Pearl, with her characteristic naughty,|
|witchcraft-like expression, withdraws her hand from Arthur|
|Dimmesdale’s and points across the street. The meteor’s trail, to|
|which Dimmesdale directs his gaze, has taken the shape of a big, red|
|’A’ streaking across the sky.|
|However, Pearl was not pointing at the meteor’s streak but at Roger |
|Chillingworth, who was also returning from Governor Winthrop’s|
|deathbed, and who is now gazing, with a terrible and malevolent|
|expression, at the three people standing on the scaffold. Dimmesdale|
|reacts with terror at the sight of Chillingworth, and asks Hester if|
|she knows the man. Hester, true to her oath to Chillingworth, does |
|not reveal her relationship to Chillingworth. Pearl whispers to|
|Dimmesdale that she knows who he is, but then simply speaks in|
|gibberish. She does this, she says, because Dimmesdale refused|
|earlier to stand with she and Hester on the scaffold during the day.|
|Chillingworth convinces Dimmesdale to come home with him, so that he|
|is able to preach the next day at Sunday morning services.|
|The sermon the next morning is the best the Reverend Dimmesdale has |
|ever given, and many souls are brought to the truth because of it. |
|As Reverend Dimmesdale leaves his pulpit, the sexton meets him,|
|holding out one of Dimmesdale’s black gloves, which was found on the|
|scaffold that morning. “Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending|
|a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he was blind |
|and foolish, as he ever and always is. A pure hand needs no glove to|
|cover it!” Chapter 12, pg. 145. The sexton then mentions the meteor |
|shower in the shape of an ‘A’ that was seen the night before, and|
|says “…which we interpret to stand for Angel. For as our good|
|Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was|
|doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof.” |
|Dimmesdale indicates that he has not heard about the occurrence.|
|Chapter 12, pg. 145.|
Chapter 13
Again we take a look at Hester, examining who she has become over the past
seven years. After the incident on the town scaffolds at night, Hester
Prynne realizes how badly Mr. Dimmesdale has deteriorated, both physically
and emotionally, since Pearl was born. She decides to seek Mr. Dimmesdale
out in private and try to offer her help. She recognizes her bond with him
because of the crime they committed together, and therefore her
responsibility to him. In addition, Hester continually helps those who less
fortunate than she, and Arthur Dimmesdale is no exception.

In addition, Hester finds that the perception of her in the community has
begun to change: “Many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its
original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester
Prynne, with a woman’s strength.” Chapter 13, pg. 148. However, Hester
cannot find it in herself to accept any thanks, instead pointing silently
to the scarlet letter when she is stopped in the street.

However, it does not appear that the community continues to fully recognize
the meaning of the scarlet letter. The first thing townspeople tell
strangers about the letter when they inquire is that Hester is kind and
giving. Only afterward do they explain its original significance. In
addition, a mythology has risen out of the letter, and people say that it
has protected Hester from mortal wounds from an Indian arrow, and that it
will keep her safe no matter with whom she associates. Despite this
favorable change in how Hester is perceived among the townspeople, Hester
herself has undergone a deeper, more profound change. “All the light and
graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot
brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline,
which might have been repulsive, had she possessed friends or companions to
be repelled by it.” Chapter 13, pp. 149-50.

She even looks harsh, with her plain dresses and hair tucked completely
under a cap, never to be seen by anyone. “There seemed to be no longer
anything in Hester’s face for Love to dwell upon” Chapter 13, pg. 150. It
is debatable whether or not she can regain those attributes. Because Hester
is in this position, her life enters a period of deep and continuous
thought. It is in this realm that Hester commits the deepest crimes against
the Puritan fathers, who are not accepting, as are the Europeans, of
freedom of thought. Hester takes great theoretical risks and dramatic
steps, like those of the European rulers who have overthrown ancient
prejudicial systems.

She begins to imagine the possibility of upsetting the power of men, and
therefore giving women a better place in the world. In imagining change,
she sees that the power of men has become so ingrained it almost appears
hereditary, and she understands how difficult it will be to create change.

Of course, “It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly
often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of
society.” Chapter 13, pg. 151. Hester lives her life in this careful manner
because of Pearl, for whom she must care, and about whom she must think all
the time. Pearl is so difficult, as if she is affected by her parents
unlawful union, that she serves as both a warning and a topic of
contemplation for Hester. Hester sees the great injustice done to women
throughout history, and wonders whether Pearl should not be sent to Heaven
immediately, because the world was too horrible, and because then Hester
could leave the world as well.

Hester begins, after her encounter with Dimmesdale, to contemplate the
issue of Arthur Dimmesdale’s imminent psychological ruin at the hands of
Roger Chillingworth. She had always felt that, by refusing to implicate him
in the crime of adultery, she was saving him from the ruin that she faced
every day. Unfortunately only now does she realize her mistake – this
silent, hidden enemy (Chillingworth) is much worse than any public shame.

She recognizes, however, that Chillingworth has stooped even lower than she
by trying to get revenge on Dimmesdale – something she has never done.

Hester decides that she must speak to Chillingworth, her former husband,
and try to convince him to let Dimmesdale be.

Chapter 14
Hester encounters Chillingworth by the shore a few days later, gathering
weeds with which to make medicines. She tells Pearl to leave her and play
by the water’s edge while she approaches Chillingworth.

Before anything else, he tells Hester that the town magistrates were
recently debating whether or not to let Hester remove the Scarlet Letter.

Hester replies: “It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take off
this badge….Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own
nature, or be transformed into something that should speak a different
purport.” Chapter 14, pg. 155.

As Chillingworth speaks to her, Hester notices a deep and harsh burning in
Chillingworth’s eyes. Hester realizes that Chillingworth has become a
devil, and she stares at the flame in his eyes, all the while feeling the
burning of the scarlet letter on her chest. The two are the same.

She is glad to change the subject to Dimmesdale, about whom Chillingworth
is excited to speak, because Hester is his one and only confidant. However,
Hester states that she is sorry she ever made a vow of secrecy with
Chillingworth, because it made things so much worse for Dimmesdale.

Chillingworth claims that he has kept the man alive with his medicine, but
Hester replies by saying that death would have been far more welcome and a
less harsh punishment to Dimmesdale. Chillingworth gets very excited
defending the punishment he has exacted from Dimmesdale, and stops
suddenly, realizing how fiend-like he has become. “‘I have already told
thee what I am! Fiend! Who made me so?’ ‘It was myself!’ cried Hester,
shuddering. ‘It was I, not less than he. Why has thou not avenged thyself
on me?’ ‘I have left thee to the scarlet letter,’ replied Roger
Chillingworth. ‘If that have not avenged me, I can do no more!’ He laid his
finger on it, with a smile. ‘It has avenged thee!’ answered Hester Prynne.”
Chapter 14, pg. 158.

Chapter 15
Hester thinks about Chillingworth after they part from their meeting. She
recognizes a deep hatred she has developed for the man, and is shocked that
she ever tricked herself into thinking she loved him. Images of their
marriage give her chills.

Hester then summons Pearl back from her play at the water’s edge. Pearl
returns, having decorated herself with seaweed, including a bright green
“A” laid out on her chest.

When Hester asks Pearl if she knows what the meaning of the symbol is,
Pearl responds: “‘Truly do I!’ Answered Pearl, looking brightly into her
mother’s face. ‘It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand
over his heart!'” Chapter 15, pg. 166. But, that is all she can say, and
Hester refuses to explain any further, despite the fact that Pearl
continues to press the subject. Finally, the next morning, Hester yells at
Pearl and threatens her if Pearl continues to ask about the letter. Hester
tells her she wears the ‘A’ for the sake of its gold embroidery.

| |
|Chapter 16|
|Hester finally meets with Mr. Dimmesdale in the woods to reveal the |
|secret identity of Chillingworth to him. She plans to meet him as he|
|returns from a visit to a local Indian village. As she and Pearl|
|walk deeper into the woods, the sun continues to dart away ahead of |
|”‘Mother,’ said little Pearl, ‘the sunshine does not love you. It|
|runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on|
|your bosom. Now see! There it is, playing a good way off. Stand you |
|here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not|
|flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!’ ‘Nor ever will, |
|my child, I hope,’ said Hester. ‘And why not, mother?’ asked Pearl, |
|stopping short, just at the beginning of her race. ‘Will not it come|
|of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?’ ‘Run away, child,’|
|answered her mother, ‘and catch the sunshine! It will soon be |
|gone.'” Chapter 16, pg. 168.|
|Pearl then asks Hester about the Black Man, to whom people come at |
|night in the forest and sign their names in blood in his big book. |
|”‘But mother, tell me now! Is there such a Black Man? And didst thou|
|ever meet him? And is this his mark?’….’Once in my life I met the |
|Black Man!’ said her mother. ‘This scarlet letter is his mark!'”|
|Chapter 16, pg. 170.|
|At last Hester sees Dimmesdale approaching and tells Pearl to go off|
|to play. She runs to a nearby babbling brook that Pearl remarked|
|earlier is telling a very sorrowful story, and she tries to sing|
|along with a happier story. Hester approaches the minister and|
|notices how, in him, “Death was too definite an object to be wished |
|for or avoided.” Chapter 16, pg. 173. |
Chapter 17
Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale meet and speak in the forest. First,
they question each other’s bodily existence, and slowly retreat away from
the forest path, out of sight. Dimmesdale speaks about the lie that is his
life, as Hester tries to comfort and reassure him. He does say, “Thou
little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years’
cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am!” Chapter 17,
pg. 176.

Hester decides to take a big step, and tells Arthur who Roger Chillingworth
really is, to explain why Dimmesdale has felt that there was evil lurking
around him:
“‘I might have known it,’ murmured he. ‘I did know it!’ Was not the secret
told me, in the natural recoil of my heart, at the first sight of him, and
as often as I have seen him? Why did I not understand? O Hester Prynne,
thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame! –
the indelicacy! – the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and
guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou
art accountable for this! I cannot forgive thee!'” Chapter 17, pg. 178.

Hester begs for forgiveness, and throws herself into a tight embrace with
Arthur. After a long silence, Arthur does forgive her. He says that they
aren’t the worst sinners in the world; Roger Chillingworth is worse than
either of them. Hester and Dimmesdale then realize they must leave
Chillingworth, as well as the whole settlement of Boston behind. Hester
convinces Dimmesdale that he must change his name and leave with her and
Pearl for a new life in Europe.

| |
|Chapter 18|
|An incredible weight has been lifted from Hester’s shoulders by her |
|and Dimmesdale’s decision to leave the colony. Hester unpins the|
|scarlet letter from her dress and throws it aside. It lands very|
|near to the brook. She then uncovers her hair and lets it fall over |
|her shoulders. “There played around her mouth, and beamed out of her|
|eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing form the very |
|heart of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that |
|had been long so pale.” Chapter 18, pg. 185.|
|Hester then calls Pearl back from her play in the forest, where she |
|had decked herself in all sorts of flowers and greenery. Pearl|
|approaches slowly at the sight of Arthur Dimmesdale.|
Chapter 19
Hester begins to recite all of Pearl’s wonderful qualities. Pearl
approaches Hester and Arthur, but stops at the far edge of the brook. It is
almost as if Pearl is unable to return to Hester from the wild of the
forest. “‘I have a strange fancy,’ observed the sensitive minister, ‘that
this brook is the boundary between two worlds, and that thou canst never
meet thy Pearl again.'” Chapter 19, pg. 191.

Pearl begins pointing wildly at her mother’s breast and shrieking. Hester
realizes that Pearl misses the scarlet letter, which Hester has always worn
in Pearl’s presence. Hester picks up the letter from the near side of the
brook and pins in back on her dress, at which point Pearl runs across the
brook to Hester and hugs her tightly. Hester asks Pearl to come meet Arthur
Dimmesdale, to which Pearl asks if he will walk with them into town. Hester
says no. Dimmesdale gives Pearl a kiss on her forehead. Pearl promptly runs
to the brook to wash it off, and stays standing apart from the two adults
as they finish conversing and planning.

| |
|Chapter 20|
|As Dimmesdale leaves Hester and Pearl in the forest, he has to look |
|back to assure himself that his encounter with the two had been|
|real. To further reassure himself of the reality, he thinks through |
|the plans he and Hester have made. Hester will secure passage and|
|secrecy for the three on a Spanish pirate ship that is in port and |
|set to leave in four days. Dimmesdale is pleased with this plan|
|because his Election Sermon, given on the opening day of the |
|legislature, is set for the day before the boat’s departure. “‘At|
|least, they shall say of me,’ thought this exemplary man, ‘that I|
|leave no public duty unperformed, nor ill performed!'” Chapter 20, |
|pg. 197.|
|With his meeting with Hester behind him, Dimmesdale finds a new|
|reserve of energy which follows him through encounters with some of |
|his parishioners. First, Dimmesdale meets the deacon, and they|
|converse about the communion supper. |
|Dimmesdale passes others in his parish, and struggles similarly.|
|Lastly, he encounters Mistress Hibbins. She notices that the |
|Reverend has been to the forest, and encourages him to go with her |
|next time.|
|After this encounter, Dimmesdale reaches his apartment, and goes|
|inside quickly, glad to be alone. As he peruses his desk, complete |
|with his half-written Election Sermon, Chillingworth knocks on the |
|door. Dimmesdale refuses Chillingworth’s ensuing offer of a|
|physician’s treatment today, and “The physician knew then, that, in |
|the minister’s regard, he was no longer a trusted friend, but his|
|bitterest enemy.” Chapter 20, pg. 204. After Chillingworth leaves, |
|without saying any of his thoughts aloud, the reverend eats a large |
|meal, throws his half-written Election Day sermon away, and starts a|
|new one. He spends the entire night writing an inspired, lengthy|
|sermon. |
Chapter 21
It is the morning of the Election Sermon, as the townspeople begin to
gather in the town square–among them, Hester and Pearl. Hester’s face is
an almost deathlike pale mask.

Pearl wonders about the reason for the holiday and Hester explains that
everyone is here to see the procession pass to the Church. Pearl asks if
the minister will be there, and Hester says he will.

“‘What a strange, sad man is he!’ said the child, as if speaking partly to
herself. ‘In the dark night-time he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and
mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder. And in the deep
forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he
talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses my forehead, too,
so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But here, in the sunny
day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A
strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart!'” Chapter 21,
pg. 209.

Hester directs Pearl’s attention to the festivities. The Puritan election
is somewhat more than a simple election, it is also a dignified celebration
of a new political year for the young Puritan government. Everyone in town
comes out to celebrate the election.

Included in the crowd are a number of sailors from the Spanish boat
currently in Port. The commander of the boat is seen speaking privately
with Chillingworth. The commander then approaches Hester, who is standing
alone, and informs her that Chillingworth has requested passage on the boat
along with Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale.

| |
|Chapter 22|
|The Procession passes through the town square. The Reverend|
|Dimmesdale is part of the procession, and is remarkable today in his|
|appearance: “There was no feebleness of step, as at other times; his|
|frame was not bent; nor did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. |
|Yet, if the clergyman were rightly viewed, his strength seemed not |
|of the body….so abstracted was his look, it might be questioned|
|whether Mr. Dimmesdale even heard the music of the procession.”|
|Chapter 22, pp. 217-218. Hester sees Dimmesdale’s changed appearance|
|and feels as if he is totally lost to her – as if their encounter in|
|the woods had been only a dream. “‘Mother,’ said she, ‘was that the |
|same minister that kissed me by the brook?'” Chapter 22, pg. 219.|
|Against the public norm, Mistress Hibbins begins speaking to Hester |
|in public, whispering to her in the midst of festivities. She hints |
|and jokes that Dimmesdale’s current good health is due to a meeting |
|he and Hester had in the forest.|
|As Hibbins and Hester speak, Dimmesdale begins his speech inside the|
|over-crowded Church.|
|Hester cannot get in because of the crowds, so she stands beside the|
|familiar town scaffold. She can hear only the indistinct sound of|
|the sermon, because she is too far away to hear the words. She|
|listens intently, sympathizing “so intimately that the sermon had|
|throughout a meaning for her, entirely apart from its|
|indistinguishable words.” Chapter 22, pg. 221.|
|As the sermon continues, those still outside, many from far|
|settlements, begin to crowd around Hester, many seeing the famed|
|scarlet letter for the first time. “At the final hour, when she was |
|so soon to fling aside the burning letter, it had strangely become |
|the center of more remark and excitement, and was thus made to sear |
|her breast more painfully than at any time since the first day she |
|put it on.” Chapter 22, pg. 225.|
| |
|Chapter 23|
|Dimmesdale’s sermon ends, and the crowd inside the church speaks in |
|rapture about the sermon. Yet, as Dimmesdale leaves the church, the |
|people take on a subdued tone: “The glow, which they had just before|
|beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguished, like a flame that|
|sinks down hopelessly among the late-decaying embers. It seemed|
|hardly the face of a man alive, with such a deathlike hue; it was|
|hardly a man with life in him that tottered on his path so|
|nervelessly, yet tottered, and did not fall!” Chapter 23, pg. 228. |
| |
|The Reverend Wilson, worried about Dimmesdale’s health, walks toward|
|him to offer help, but Dimmesdale refuses. He walks on slowly until |
|he reaches the scaffold, where Hester is standing with Pearl by her |
|side. Dimmesdale stops, turns toward them, and reaches out his|
|hands. Hester approaches slowly, but pauses just before she reaches |
|him. At that moment, Chillingworth pushes through the crowd to|
|Dimmesdale and tries to stop him. “‘Ha, tempter! Methinks thou art |
|too late!’ answered the minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, |
|but firmly. ‘Thy power is not what it was! With God’s help, I shall |
|escape thee now!'” Chapter 23, pg. 230.|
|The minister turns again to Hester, saying this must be the best way|
|to resolve the whole tragedy. He says he is dying and wants to|
|confess his sin. He stands up on the scaffold, onto which Hester and|
|Pearl help him climb, and confesses to his congregants. At the end, |
|he opens his shirt to reveal his chest. Chillingworth, who is |
|looking on in horror, reacts: “‘Thou hast escaped me!’ he repeated |
|more than once….’May God forgive thee!’ said the minister. ‘Thou, |
|too, hast deeply sinned!'” Chapter 23, pp. 232-233. Dimmesdale then |
|turns to Pearl and asks her to kiss him.|
|”Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of|
|grief, in which the wild infant bore a party, had developed all her |
|sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were|
|the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor|
|forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her |
|mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was all |
|fulfilled.” Chapter 23, pg. 233.|
|Dimmesdale then says farewell to Hester, and she bends over him,|
|wanting to know if they will meet again. “Hush, Hester, hush!…The |
|law was broke! – the sin here so awfully revealed! – let these alone|
|be in thy thoughts! I fear! I fear! It may be that, when we forgot |
|our God, – when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul,|
|- it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in |
|an everlasting and pure reunion.” Chapter 23, pg. 233. Dimmesdale|
|then dies.|
Chapter 24
After the excitement, the townspeople have differing ideas of how what they
saw on Arthur Dimmesdale’s chest came to be. They saw the scarlet letter
“imprinted in the flesh.” Some thought Dimmesdale had inflicted the torture
upon himself, some felt that Roger Chillingworth had caused it to appear
with the aid of his magic and herbs. Still others felt “that the awful
symbol was the effect of the ever-active tooth of remorse, gnawing from the
inmost heart outwardly, and at last manifesting Heaven’s dreadful judgment
by the visible presence of the letter.” Chapter 24, pg. 234. Finally, a few
spectators continue to claim that they saw nothing at all, and that the
minister had said nothing to imply his guilt in any way. Instead, they say
he turned to Hester, “a fallen woman”, to emphasize the unattainable nature
of human righteousness.

After the townspeople’s responses, Roger Chillingworth is described. His
entire demeanor changes after Dimmesdale’s death. His vitality is gone,
because the subject of his revenge – and life’s work – is dead. Roger
Chillingworth dies within the year, and bequeaths a large amount of
property in Europe to Pearl Prynne. Soon after Chillingworth’s death, Pearl
and Hester disappear. Years later, Hester returns alone to the preserved
cottage on the peninsula. She receives lavish gifts and letters with
armorial seals from far-away places, possibly from a lover. No one knows
for sure where Pearl has gone, though Hester is seen sewing an opulent
baby’s gown definitely not meant for a Puritan household.

Hester becomes a valued counselor to many women. “Hester comforted and
counseled them as best she might. She assured them, too, of her firm
belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown
ripe for it, in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order
to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of
mutual happiness.” Chapter 24, pg. 239. Hester dies many, many years later,
and “a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial-
ground beside which King’s Chapel has since been built. It was near that
old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two
sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both.”
Chapter 24, pg. 239.

The tombstone reads: “On a Field, Sable, the Letter A, Gules.” Chapter 24,
pg. 240. Sable is red, Gules is the traditional name for red in heraldry.


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