The Scarlet Letter

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

The story is set in seventeenth century Boston on a June day in 1642. On this day, a large number of people who live in the small town of Boston have gathered to witness an official act of punishment. Hester Prynne, a young and beautiful woman of the community, has been found guilty of adultery, and she has been sentenced to wear a scarlet A on the bodice of her dress. Furthermore, she must stand on a scaffold for three hours, exposed to the disdain of her fellow townspeople.

List of the most important characters:

Hester Prynne is a young English woman. She and her husband were living in Amsterdam several years before the action of the novel begins, and her husband, who said that he would join her shortly, sent her to the colonies.
As the novel begins, Hester has been living in Boston for two years and has been found guilty of bearing a child by an unknown father. As punishment for her sin, she is forced to wear a scarlet A on the bodice of her dress.

Reverend Arthur Dimnmesdale is the unmarried pastor of Hester's congregation, and he is also the father of Hester's daughter, Pearl. At the beginning of the novel, Dimmesdale reminds Hester that her refusal to name him as her fellow sinner "will tempt him to add hypocrisy to sin." Due to his position in the congregation, he cannot confess his sin to his congregation and though the suffers from his guilty conscience

Pearl is the illegitimate daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale. Pearl is given her symbolic name because she was born at a great price.
Hester soon discovers that Pearl does not follow rules, and that she is very stubborn which makes her think that Pearl is a sign for her sin.

Roger Chillingworth is the pseudonym which is used by Hester Prynne's husband, Roger Prynne, who was to follow her shortly after she left. Hester recognizes Roger as she stands on the scaffold in front of all the townspeople. Later, in her prison cell, he convinces her to promise that she will not reveal that he is her lawful husband, and Hester is not going to tell him who fathered her child. However, Chillingworth seeks revenge.

Minor Characters:

Governor Bellingham
Mistress Hibbins
John Wilson
Master Brackett
The Sexton
The Commander

The course of the novel:

As Hester approaches the scaffold, her beauty and her quiet dignity anger many of the cruel - faced women in the crowd. They feel that her punishment is not sufficient for the nature of her crime, and they comment that if they had been her judge, they would have branded an A on her forehead or even executed her. Hester's good reputation in the past is ell known, however, and it is that reputation which influenced the judges' decision to grant her some leniency.
In England, Hester's family was once wealthy, but when they lost their money, Hester's parents arranged for her to be engaged to a scholar, an older man with a slight physical deformity. After the couple were married, they lived in Amsterdam for some time before the decision was made to settle in the American colonies. Hester has been living in Boston for two years now and because her husband never arrived in the colonies, most people assumed that he was lost at sea.
Standing of the scaffold, Hester looks out over the crowd, and she notices a small, misshapen man who is her long - lost husband. She reacts to his presence by pressing her baby to her bosom. When Chillingworth sees Hester, "a powerful emotion" darkens his face and he vows that the identity of the unknown father will be revealed.
Meanwhile, Hester is questioned by Reverend John Wilson and by Dimmesdale. Both men urge Hester to say the name of her fellow sinner, but Hester refuses to do so. After a sermon held by John Wilson, Hester is returned to her prison cell where she and Pearl receive medical treatment from a physician - Chillingworth, Hester's lawful husband who is misshapen and old. Chillingworth takes advantage of his time with Hester and Pearl and admits that it wasn't a good idea to have a marriage between an old and misshapen man and a young and beautiful woman. He demands, however, the name of Pearl's father. Hester refuses to do so. Chillingworth insists that Hester will never reveal that he is her husband, and if she ever does so, he will "destroy" Pearl's father. Hester agrees.
When Hester is released from prison she settles in a small cottage at the edge of town, and she begins to earn her living by doing needlework. Due to her extraordinary talent, her clothes soon become fashion.
Hester is oftentimes troubled by Pearl's behaviour and unusual character. As she grows older, Pearl becomes an unruly child and Hester finds it hard to discipline her. As a result of her conduct in town, rumours begin to circulate that Pearl is "a demon offspring". Consequently, the conservative church members suggest that Pearl should be taken away from her mother. Hester is afraid that these rumours may be true, and so she decides to go and talk to the magistrates of the town.
While standing in governor's hall, Pearl calls her mother's attention to a reflection of her scarlet A which reflects on an armour hanging on the wall. Finally, Governor Bellingham arrives and Hester and Bellingham discuss the issue about Pearl being taken from her. After a lot of talking and questioning, Hester is allowed to keep Pearl.
Hester's confrontation with Bellingham as well as the one with Dimmesdale, who also was present, were both witnessed by Chillingworth. Because Dimmesdale's health began to fail shortly after Hester was punished on the scaffold, the townspeople were happy to have Chillingworth move into the same house with Dimmesdale.
Soon, Chillingworth concluded that Dimmesdale's illness isn't physical but it is rather caused by some unconfessed guilt. He suspects that Dimmesdale is Pearl's father and he applies psychological pressure to him in order to make him confess the sin.
One day, Dimmesdale goes to the place where Hester was punished seven years earlier and imitates the act of standing in front of all the people. He sees Reverend Wilson going by, and a little later he sees Hester and Pearl coming by. Dimmesdale calls them onto the scaffold with him, acknowledging that they have both been there before, but that he lacked the courage to be there with them at that time. He admits his guilt, but he refuses Pearl's request to be there again with them the following day. Suddenly, there appears a gigantic A formed by a meteor in the sky. Furthermore the reader gets to know that Chillingworth has been watching Dimmesdale for the time he was standing on the scaffold. Later, Hester realizes Dimmesdale's bad physical condition and she is shocked. She decides to do something about it.
One afternoon, she sees Chillingworth gathering herbs and she tells him that she is going to reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale. Chillingworth, however, replies that he cannot pardon him.
Several days later, Hester meets Reverend Dimmesdale who just came back from a missionary for Indians. She tells him that the old physician is her lawful husband and she wants him to be aware of Chillingworth because he seeks revenge. She suggests to secretly leave Boston and to return to England. Full of positive energy, Hester removes the scarlet letter to show her enthusiasm as they discuss further details.
Dimmesdale instantly gains new energy and a change can be seen. Therefore, Hester calls Pearl because she wants her to hear the delightful news. However, Pearl refuses to come to Hester until she replaces the scarlet letter.
On his way back to town, Dimmesdale behaves in a strange way. Back at home, he starts writing his Election Day sermon.
On Election Day morning, Hester and Pearl appear in the town square to observe the parade. Hester warns Peal that she is not to expect Dimmesdale to take any notice of them and that Pearl is not to greet him. While they area waiting for the parade to begin, the captain of the ship on which Hester has arranged a passage to England informs her that there will be an additional passenger going with them: Roger Chillingworth.
As the procession passes Hester, she notices that Dimmesdale is so lost in thought that he takes no notice of her and Pearl.
Following his sermon, which the crowd declares to be one of the most inspired sermons they have ever heard, the procession leaves the church. Dimmesdale, however, walks as if he was in a trance. He almost falls on time.
Seeing Hester and Pearl at the foot of the scaffold, he turns toward them. Chillingworth attempts to prevent Dimmesdale from doing anything unexpected, but Dimmesdale declares that with God's help, he will escape the power of his physician. At Dimmesale's request, Hester helps him ascend the scaffold, where he stands with her and Pearl. There, he confesses to the astonished crowd that he is Pearl's father. Then he collapses and sinks to the ground. Later, witnesses swear that they saw a stigmata in the form of a scarlet A upon his chest.
Following Dimmesdale's death, Hester decides to leave Boston. Chillingworth, no longer having Dimmesdale as the object of his bitter revenge, dies shortly after Dimmesdale. At his death, he wills Pearl a great deal of money, which makes her a wealthy young woman. Several years later, Hester leaves England and returns to Boston. She becomes a person to whom other women turn for solace during their times of trouble. When she dies, she is buried right beside the grave of Dimmesdale, but not so close that their dust can mingle. A simple slate tombstone serves for both graves.

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