Summary- chapter 1
A large crowd of Puritans stands outside of the prison, waiting for the door to open. The prison is described as a, “wooden jail … already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front.” The iron on the prison is rusting and creates an overall appearance of decay. Outside the building, next to the door, a rosebush stands in full bloom. The narrator remarks that it is possible that “this rosebush … had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison door.” He then plucks one of the roses and offers it to the reader as a “moral blossom” to be found later in the story.
Summary Chapter 2
The crowd in front of the jail is a mixture of men and women, all maintaining severe looks of disapproval. Several of the women begin to discuss Hester Prynne, and they soon vow that Hester would not have received such a light sentence for her crime if they had been the judges. One woman, the ugliest of the group, goes so far as to advocate death for Hester. Hester emerges from the prison with elegance and a ladylike air to her movements. She clutches her three month old daughter, Pearl. She has sown a large scarlet A over her breast, using her finest skill to make the badge of shame appear to be a decoration. Several of the women are outraged when they see how she has chosen to display the letter, and they want to rip it off. Hester is led through the crowd to the scaffold of the pillory. She ascends the stairs and stands, now fully revealed to the crowd, in her position of shame and punishment for the next few hours. Hawthorne compares her beauty and elegance while on the scaffold to an image of Madonna and Child, or Divine Maternity. The ordeal is strenuous and difficult for Hester. She tries to make the images in front of her vanish by thinking about her past. Hester was born in England and grew up there. She later met a scholar who was slightly deformed, having a left shoulder higher than his right. Her husband, later revealed to be Roger Chillingworth, first took her to Amsterdam and then sent her to America to await his arrival. Hester looks out over the crowd and realizes for the first time that her life condemns her to be alone. She looks at her daughter and then fingers the scarlet letter that will remain a part of her from now on. At the thought of her future, she squeezes her daughter so hard that the child cries out in pain.
Summary Chapter 3
On the edge of the crowd, Hester notices an Indian accompanied by a white man. She recognizes the white man as Roger Chillingworth, her husband, who sent her to America and remained in Amsterdam. Hester fearfully clutches Pearl harder, which again causes her child to cry out in pain. Roger Chillingworth asks a bystander who Hester is and what her crime was. The man informs him of her past, telling that she was sent to Boston to await her husband, but she ended up with a child instead. Chillingworth remarks that the man who was her partner in the crime of adultery will eventually become known. The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale is exhorted to make Hester tell the gathered crowd who the father is. She refuses and instead tells him that she will bear both his shame and her own. Dimmesdale cries out, “She will not speak!” and places his hand over his heart. The Reverend Mr. Wilson steps forward and delivers a sermon against sin, after which Hester is allowed to return to the prison.
After Hester returns to her prison cell, she remains agitated by the day’s events. Pearl is also upset and starts crying. The jailer therefore allows a physician to enter and try to calm them down. Roger Chillingworth, pretending to be a physician, enters and mixes a potion for Pearl, who soon falls asleep. He also makes a drink for Hester, who is afraid that he is trying to kill her. Nevertheless, she drinks his potion and sits down on the bed. Chillingworth tells her that he forgives her, and he accepts the blame for having married her. She says, “thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any.” He asks Hester who the father of Pearl is, but she refuses to tell him. Chillingworth then laughs and says, “He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost; but I shall read it on his heart.” He then makes Hester swear to never reveal that he is her husband. She becomes afraid of Chillingworth’s purpose, and she asks whether he has forced her into a bond that will ruin her soul. He smiles and tells her, “Not thy soul … No, not thine!”
Is Hester truly penitent for her crime?
Though Hester regrets the effect her crime has had on her child and on her position in society, she sees Chillingworth’s betrayal of Dimmesdale as an even greater crime. Ultimately, Hester learns to forgive herself for her sins while Dimmesdale does not.
Why does Dimmesdale intervene on Pearl’s behalf when Governor Bellingham orders her removed from Hester’s care?
There are two possibilities: either he fears Hester revealing his name or he truly believes that Hester deserves to care for her daughter, since he is emotionally connected to Pearl as her father and wants Hester to raise her. Ultimately, we believe that it is guilt which motivates him most, since he comes to Hester’s defense only after she looks at him with imploring eyes.
What is the difference between how adultery is viewed now and how it was viewed by Puritan society? In other words, where does the blame lie?
In modern society, adultery is seen as a breach of contract between two people and therefore a private matter. In Puritan society, adultery was seen as a breach of contract between two people and the community in which they lived.
How is the Scarlet Letter embodied by Pearl?
Pearl, in her wild, unrepressed passion, represents the adulterous passion of her parents, as does the scarlet letter. In her society, she is completely out of place, a child of illicit passion and a constant reminder, like the scarlet letter, of that passion.
Why does Dimmesdale keep putting his hand over his heart?
Pearl asks this question repeatedly of her mother, but Hester will not answer her. Over time, we understand that Dimmesdale has literally and figuratively inscribed his own scarlet letter into the flesh above his heart so that he can commune with Hester’s guilt, shame, and public excommunication.
Do people in the community believe Hester’s punishment for adultery is too light or too strict?
or the most part, they believe it is too lenient, and some advocate branding her with a hot iron or death, the sentence associated with the crime of adultery both in the New England statutes of the time and in the Bible. As time progresses, however, they loosen slightly in their attitudes, though not as much as Hester would expect. Those who acknowledge their own sinfulness are somewhat less quick to judge Hester and can see the case for a less strict punishment by the community.
What are the purposes of the opening Custom-House essay?
The Custom-House introduction does more than increase the length of the novel, which Hawthorne thought was too short. It also adds a frame story and a romantic sense of truth or non-fiction to the tale. It introduces themes and imagery that will appear later in the novel. And it adds weight to the story by suggesting that the actual fabric of the scarlet letter continues to hold power.
Who is more racked by guilt, Hester or Dimmesdale?
Dimmesdale has sinned according to his own system of beliefs, since as the town minister he has violated the values he has preached against for decades. He takes his guilt to heart and suffers mightily. Hester, meanwhile, has come to terms with her sin over time.
What do Dimmesdale and Chillingworth share, other than Hester herself?
Both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth conceal their relationships to the adulterous act, leaving Hester as the only person to take public responsibility for the affair. They continue to maintain prominent roles in society. Both men are ultimately destroyed by this secrecy as they become entangled in a parasitic relationship.
Does Chillingworth ever forgive Hester?
Chillingworth seems forgiving of Hester at the outset, and he seems to transfer his rage onto Dimmesdale, whom he pursues relentlessly. Indeed, he seems to understand that he shouldn’t have married a woman who would never love him, but Dimmesdale must be punished for allowing Hester to indulge her passion. His sinister acts toward the end of the novel are ameliorated somewhat by his choice to leave his estate to Pearl.