ClassicNote on The Scarlet Letter
A large crowd of Puritans stands outside of the prison, waiting for the door to open. The prison is described as a, 'wooden jailalready 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 of the building, next to the door, a
rosebush stands in full bloom.
This opening chapter introduces several of the images and themes within the story to follow. These images will recur in several settings and serve as metaphors for the underlying conflict.
The prison represents several different symbols. Foremost it is a symbol for the Puritanical severity of law. The description of the prison indicates that it is old, rusted, yet strong with an 'iron-clamped oaken door.' This represents the rigorous enforcement of laws and the inability to break free of them.
The prison also serves as a metaphor for the
authority of the regime, which will not tolerate deviance.
The rosebush is a symbol of passion. As will later
become obvious, Hester Prynne's sin is one of passion, thus linking her crime
to the image of the rosebush.
The rosebush in full bloom indicates that Hester is
at the peak of her passion. This parallels the fact that Hester has just born a
child as a result of her passion. The child is thus comparable to the blossoms
on the rosebush.
Chapter Two: The Market Place: 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 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
lady-like air to her movements. She clutches her three month old daughter,
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.
The ordeal is strenuous and difficult for Hester. She
tries to make the images in front of her vanish by thinking about her past. It
is revealed that Hester was born in
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 which 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.
The most prominent part of this chapter is the scarlet letter 'A' so brazenly sown onto Hester's clothing. The 'A' takes on many meaning during the course of the novel, and even in this scene it immediately means more than just 'adultery.' The fine stitchwork and gold thread create the perception that the letter is ornamental, or a decoration.
Making the 'A' into a thing of beauty offends many bystanders, who comment that, 'it were well if we stripped Madame Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders.' However, as one man observes, 'not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart.'
The feeling of sympathy, only expressed by one of
the characters throughout this scene, is used by
This scene is the first of three scaffold scenes in the novel. In this scene Hester is forced to suffer alone, facing first her past and finally her present. The scene is clever in that it reveals Hester's past, as she was before receiving the infamous letter. It ends with her realization that she must now deal with the letter, 'these were her realities - all else had vanished.'
Chapter Three: The Recognition: 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
Roger Chillingworth asks a bystander who Hester is
and what her crime was. The man informs him of her past, telling how she was
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 his shame as well as 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.
Analysis: This chapter is largely ironic with
respect to the various characters. For example, Roger Chillingworth, Hester's
husband, sent her to
There is also irony in the way Chillingworth chides Hester. When she first sees him at the edge of the crowd she impulsively reacts with fear. Later, Chillingworth chides her by shouting, 'Speak woman, speak and give your child a father!' The irony is that the child's father should have been Chillingworth.
A final irony is the fact that Dimmesdale, the
actual father of
Dimmesdale places his hand over his heart in this
scene. This gesture will reappear and grow in significance during the course of
the novel. In this chapter it is meant to show his distress in failing to make
Hester tell him who the father of
The Indian standing at the edge of the crowd
introduces the division between the stark Puritanical world and the wilderness
beyond. Inside the city of
Chapter Four: The
Interview: After Hester
returns to her prison cell, she remains agitated by the day's events.
Roger Chillingworth, pretending to be a physician,
enters and mixes a potion for
Chillingworth tells her that he forgives her, and
accepts the blame for having married a girl younger than himself. He asks
Hester who the father of
He then makes Hester swear to never reveal that he is her husband. She becomes afraid of Chillingworth's purpose, and asks whether he has forced her into a bond that will ruin her soul. He smiles and tells her, 'Not thy soulNo, not thine!'
Analysis: This chapter marks the second interrogation of Hester, and serves to foreshadow key moments of the novel. In addition, Roger Chillingworth's relationship to Hester, namely the fact that they are married, is revealed here.
There are two moments of foreshadowing during this chapter which require commentary. The first occurs when Chillingworth says, 'Thou wilt not reveal his name? Not the less is he mine. He bears no letter of infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost; but I shall read it on his heart.' The connection between the scarlet letter and the heart was already made in previous chapters, where Hester places her hand on the letter and Dimmesdale clutches his heart to hide his shame. Thus the reader can infer that his heart will somehow reveal Dimmesdale's secret. This does in fact occur, as a result of Chillingworth feeling Dimmesdale's heart while the reverend is sleeping.
The second moment of foreshadowing occurs in the last few sentences. Hester is afraid she has made a bond that will 'prove the ruin of [her] soul.' Chillingworth replies with, 'Not thy soulNo, not thine!' Obviously the reference is to Dimmesdale's soul. This prediction also appears later in the novel, with the death of Dimmesdale.
It is difficult to establish what motivates Roger
Chillingworth to remain and seek revenge. He is an educated man with superb
skills at medicine and literature. Why then would he choose to remain in
There are few good explanations for Chillingworth's behavior and desire to not be known. The most likely reasons are either revenge or for the challenge of solving a mystery. The motive revenge rests on the fact that he failed to father a child with Hester, and after the scandal is unable to even claim her for a wife. Thus he seeks revenge on the true father for stealing his chance at a family. However, this explanation is faulty in several ways. He could just as easily wish to seek revenge on Hester for not staying true to him, or he could leave her and start a new family elsewhere.
As for the explanation that argues he is solving the mystery, Chillingworth's behavior is too sublimely cruel for that to be the only motivation. There exists no reason to solve the mystery and destroy Dimmesdale in the process if that is the only reason.
The lack of a direct motivation for Chillingworth
has led at least one critic to call him a 'stock character.' I
disagree with this definition, for it implies that there is no depth to his
character. Chillingworth, like all of
Chapter Five: Hester at
Her Needle: Hester is
released from prison and finds a cottage in the woods, near the outskirts of
the city, to set up her new life.
Hester's skill at needlework, earlier shown in the
fine way that she displayed the scarlet letter, allows her to maintain a fairly
stable lifestyle. However, her reputation as an outcast and loner causes a certain
aura to be cast around her. Thus,
Hester spends her time working on the projects
which bring in her income, and devotes the remainder of her work to creating
garments for the poor. She lives simply with the sole exception being that she
creates amazing dresses of fine fabrics for
Hester's social life is virtually eliminated as a result of her shameful history. She is treated so poorly that often preachers will stop in the street and start to deliver a lecture as she walks by. Hester also begins to hate children, who unconsciously realize there is something different about her and thus start to follow her with 'shrill cries' through the city streets.
One of the things which Hester starts to notice is
that every once in a while she receives a sympathetic glance, and feels like
she has a companion in her sin.
Analysis: The fact that Hester stays in
The symbolism of the scarlet letter is expanded in this chapter. Whereas at first it represented Hester's adultery and also her needlework skills, it now takes on two more meanings. Foremost, the letter begins to represent the hidden shame of the community. Thus preachers will stop in the street and give sermons when they see Hester. The letter therefore becomes an example of crime and acts a deterrent for others in the community.
The treatment of Hester almost reaches a low point
in this chapter. She is cut off socially in the sense that she has no friends
and lives in an isolated cottage. In addition, Hester becomes an outcast which
even the children mock, causing her more pain.
Her choice of habitation is crucial to the symbolism within the novel. The forest represents love, or the wilderness where the strict morals of the Puritan community cannot apply. Thus, when Hester makes her home on the outskirts of the city, directly on the edge of the woods, she is putting herself in a place of limbo between the moral and the immoral universes. This is important because it shows that Hester does not live under the strict Puritanical moral code, but rather tries to live in both worlds simultaneously.
The attentions Hester gives to designing
Hester spends hours clothing Pearl in the richest garments she can find, even though Hawthorne comments that Pearl would appear just as beautiful in any garment. Hester's passion exists in the child's demeanor in the form of 'flightiness of temperand even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart.'
At one point Hester asks
Analysis: The description of
As was foreshadowed earlier,
The chapter tellingly ends with
Chapter Seven: The
Governor's Hall: Hester
Hester has decorated
Hester arrives at the Governor's mansion and
enters. The mansion contains pictures of the
Analysis: The concept of
The theme of
Inside the mansion,
Hester then convinces
Chapter Eight: The
Elf-Child and the Minister:
Governor Bellingham, accompanied by the Reverend John Wilson, Arthur Dimmesdale
and Roger Chillingworth, enters the hall of his mansion. He first sees
The men then see Hester Prynne in the background.
Governor Bellingham tells her that he thinks it would be better for the child
As a test of Pear's education, John Wilson is asked
As Hester is walking home, the sister of Governor
Bellingham, Mistress Hibbins, opens her window and calls out to her. Mistress
Hibbins is a witch who steals into the forest late at night to play with the
Black Man. She asks Hester to accompany her, but Hester replies that she has to
Analysis: Much of this chapter is dedicated to
drawing stronger parallels between
Hester's appeal to Arthur Dimmesdale marks a
turning point in the novel. It is the first time she has relied on her
relationship with the minister for support, and makes the other men aware that
Dimmesdale knows Hester better than they thought. Dimmesdale steps forward with
his hand over his heart, again hiding the scarlet letter which he feels upon
his breast. This also ties back to Chillingworth's comment that he will
The scene in which Mistress Higgins invites Hester
into the woods to meet the Black Man is important. It largely acts to
foreshadow events, but also serves to make a statement about the woods. The
forest is the wilderness around
Chapter Nine: The Leech: Roger
real husband, is described in more detail. After arriving at
Dimmesdale finally gets into the permanent habit of
placing his hand over his heart in pain, and agrees to meet with Chillingworth.
The meeting immediately leads to the two men moving in together.
The townspeople are for the most part thrilled with
the way the relationship between the two men is working out. However, there
exist a few townspeople who have more innate intuition and who are skeptical of
the physician's true motives. They feel that Chillingworth has undergone a
profound change since arriving in
Analysis: The use of the term 'leech' to
describe Chillingworth is quite appropriate and holds several connotations. He
is after all a physician, who at this time were still known to use leeches as
part of the medical regime. Thus the title is partially descriptive, and does
not hold the negative meaning which modern society has assigned it.
This chapter indicates that Chillingworth has
succeeded in his pledge to Hester, namely to eventually discover the man who
The reaction of the townspeople, in eventually deciding that Chillingworth is on the side of the devil, is interesting to note. It implies that Chillingworth, for all his brilliance, is more shallow a character than would be expected, and that people can see through his guise. However, the point of this observation is also to make clear that Dimmesdale is still blind to Chillingworth's true motives, and thus is still at risk from him.
Chapter Ten: The Leech and His Patient: Chillingworth realizes that Dimmesdale is hiding some dark secret. He therefore expends a great deal of time and energy to to make Dimmesdale reveal what is troubling him. Dimmesdale fails to realize that Chillingworth is in fact his enemy, because he is so terrified of everyone in the town finding out his secret that he is blind to any enemy within his own home.
Chillingworth engages the minister in a conversation about why men keep secrets in their hearts, rather than reveal them immediately. Dimmesdale clutches his breast and struggles to avoid directly answering the questions Chillingworth poses.
The two men are interrupted by
Chillingworth observes that
Chillingworth then tells Dimmesdale that as his physician he cannot cure him since his ailment sees to come from his spiritual side. Chillingworth demands to be told what sort of secret Dimmesdale is hiding. The minister, upset by this, passionately cries out, 'No! -not to thee! -not to an earthly physician!' and leaves the room.
Soon thereafter Dimmesdale falls asleep while reading. Chillingworth takes the opportunity to place his hand over Dimmesdale's heart, and then leaves before the minister can awaken. He is incredibly full of joy and wonderment after having felt Dimmesdale's heart, and Hawthorne writes that he acted, 'how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven and won into his kingdom.'
Analysis: Chillingworth's role changes in this
chapter from human to inhuman. Before he was only described as evil, now he is
being compared to Satan stealing mens' souls.
The end of the Chapter is the revelation of
previous foreshadowing. In previous chapters, Chillingworth told Hester that he
would be able to know her partner by reading his heart. In the final scene, he
is in fact able to read Dimmesdale's heart and know the secrets Dimmesdale is
hiding. What is interesting is that
Chapter Eleven: The
Interior of a Heart: Chillingworth,
having figured out that Mr. Dimmesdale is the true father of
Mr. Dimmesdale is so overwhelmed with shame and remorse that he has started to become famous for his sermons. His ability as a speaker is enhanced by the fact that he feels far more sinful than many in his audience. He has even tried to tell his congregation about the sin he committed with Hester Prynne, but always in such a way that they think he being modest. This causes Dimmesdale even more pain, for he believes that he is also lying to his people.
Dimmesdale is also a masochist, and uses chains and
whips to beat himself in his closet. In addition he undertakes extremely long
fasts, refusing to eat or drink as an act of penance. This causes him to have
hallucinations, in which he sees his parents, friends, and even
The other interesting admission in this chapter is the fact that Dimmesdale has attempted to reveal his sin to his congregation. However, each time he is unable to succeed because his followers fail to realize that what he is saying is true. Instead, his reputation is so high that many believe he is merely being humble.
Chapter Twelve: The Minister's Vigil: Dimmesdale, having left his house, walks until he reached the scaffold where Hester Prynne suffered her public humiliation several years prior. He climbs the stairs and imagines that he has a scarlet letter on his chest which all the world can see. While in this state of mind, Dimmesdale screams out loud, and is immediately terrified that the whole town has heard him. Instead, only Governor Bellingham briefly appears on his balcony before retiring to bed.
The Reverend Mr. Wilson approaches the scaffold
holding a lantern, but only because he is returning from a late night vigil. He
fails to see Dimmesdale, who is standing on the scaffold. Dimmesdale waits a
while longer, and then bursts out laughing. Much to his surprise, the voice of
At that moment a meteor streaks across the sky,
illuminating everything, including Dimmesdale with his hand over his heart and
the scarlet letter on Hester's dress. Looking upward, Dimmesdale believes that
he sees a giant letter A in the sky. When he looks down again,
The next day, after a sermon which
Analysis: This chapter is the most powerful and moving to date. The action is rapid and contains a great deal of allusions and foreshadowing. The state of mind of Dimmesdale helps set up the chapter: 'Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart.'
The question that needs to be answered is why Dimmesdale goes to the scaffold after all this time. The only possible answer is that he seeks absolution for his crime, and the only way he can conceive of receiving such absolution is to stand where Hester stood. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not enough. After all, Hester had to deal with a large audience, while Dimmesdale is standing alone.
Although Chillingworth is in the scene, he is no
longer the main threat to Dimmesdale. By invoking divine intervention in the
form of the meteor and then the large letter 'A' in the sky,
Chapter Thirteen: Another
View of Hester: Hester's
reputation has changed over the seven years since she had
Hester's appearance has also changed over the
years. Rather than her youthful good looks, she now seems more like a shell of
a human being. Her 'rich and luxuriant' hair has been either cut off
or remains hidden under a cap.' But
Rather than living in passion and feeling, Hester
spends most of her time devoted to thought. Indeed,
Hester resolves to help Dimmesdale by rescuing him from Roger Chillingworth. She has grown strong enough as a woman to see that her previous pact with Chillingworth, in which she promised not to reveal who he really is, was the wrong decision. She therefore decides to meet him, and soon thereafter finds him in the woods collecting medicinal herbs.
Analysis: There are three main changes in this
chapter which need to be focused on. The first concerns the new interpretation
of the scarlet letter. Hester's changing reputation leads to the letter being
reevaluated, so much that it comes to mean 'Able.' But
The second difference is that of Hester's focus. In Chapter One Hawthorne compared Hester with Ann Hutchinson, and this marks his second reference to her. Thus the foreshadowing in Chapter One is finally brought to fruition. Hester's focus changes by her shift from passion to intellectual thought. Rather than act on feeling, she now acts on logic.
This brings about the third change, namely Hester's willingness to challenge Roger Chillingworth. This is quite dramatic a shift in her personality, because before she was terrified of what he might do to her. Now, having seen that her inaction has in fact led to Dimmesdale's demise in health, she realizes that she must act quickly.
The sad part of this chapter is that even though Hester finally becomes a person of action, it is far too late for her to actually change anything. The foreshadowing of the previous chapter indicated that Dimmesdale's fate lay with heaven, and that Chillingworth could no longer effect the minister. Thus, Hester's attempts to drive Chillingworth away are actually futile.
Chapter Fourteen: Hester
and the Physician: Hester
Hester then tells Chillingworth that she plans to reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale. He is unmoved by this, telling her that nothing he or she does can alter the way things now stand. She pleads with Chillingworth to pardon Dimmesdale for what happened so that he can let go of his revenge. Chillingworth replies, 'Let the black flower blossom as it may.'
Analysis: This chapter merely puts into words what has been foreshadowed up until now. It is clear that Chillingworth is unable to forgive or pardon, but even he realizes that events are happening independently of his intervention.
Chillingworth's final comment about the black flower blossoming simply means that the evil which has been created will continue to grow. This draws on the imagery of Hester, 'plant[ing] the germ of evil' and thus makes the entire situation out to be her fault. Hester realizes that she is to blame for the results of her actions, but finds it difficult to accept.
Chapter Fifteen: Hester
Hester then asks
Hester's refusal to tell
The failure of Hester to fully reveal her secret to
Chapter Sixteen: A Forest
Walk: Hester takes
Hester, tired of Pearl asking about the scarlet
letter, tells her that letter is the mark of the Black Man which she received
after meeting the Black Man once before. Dimmesdale then starts coming down the
forest path, and
Analysis: This chapter is meant to foreshadow many of the events that will be revealed before the ending. The sunlight running away from Hester is meant to indicate that wherever she goes, bad things will happen. Thus her meeting with Dimmesdale will only cause him further suffering.
The story of the Black Man is told in order to
compare the nature of the suffering of Hester and Dimmesdale. Hester's
suffering is open and visible, marked on her bosom with gold threads.
Dimmesdale's is hidden under his clothing, and therefore internal.
Chapter Seventeen: The Pastor and his Parishioner: Hester calls out to Dimmesdale and starts talking to him. He tells her that he feels like a cheat whenever he preaches to his congregation, and that he longs for a friend who knows his secret. Hester offers to be his friend, but then tells him that he is living with an enemy.
She reveals the fact that Chillingworth is her former husband, at which Dimmesdale first appears angry, but then sinks down into the ground. He tells Hester that he cannot forgive her for not telling him. Hester, after seven years of desperately wanting forgiveness, puts her arms around Dimmesdale and pleads with him to forgive her, which he finally does.
He begs her to tell him what to do now that he
cannot live with Chillingworth any longer. Hester advises Dimmesdale to leave
the settlement and go into the wilderness where he live in peace. He declines
the very thought, but she presses him to then take a new name and go to
Analysis: This sad chapter is an encounter between
Hester and Dimmesdale which should have occurred much earlier in the novel.
However, there is a tendency for Dimmesdale to deny
what he knows is truth. Thus, even knowing that he cannot really escape
Chapter Eighteen: A Flood of Sunshine: Dimmesdale allows himself to be overcome by Hester's arguments for leaving, and resolves to go with her. He is happy once he makes the decision to go, and feels that a burden of guilt has been lifted off of his shoulders. Hester, in a moment of passion, says, 'Let us not look back.' She then undoes the scarlet letter and tosses it away from her, watching it land only a few feet from the stream which would have carried it away.
Hester tells Dimmesdale that he must get to know
Analysis: The image of the forest as the wild place
where can passion can flow is reinvoked in this chapter. Thus
Hester's passion was compared to that of the brook's sadness in earlier chapters. The idea of a sad brook, slowly going into the forest, indicates that Hester is lost and does not know where she will end up. In this chapter she makes the decision to follow the brook deeper into the wilderness. This fires her passion to the point that she throws away the scarlet letter and lets her rich hair down. The brook takes on the new significance of leading to mysteries.
The exact meaning of sunshine must be commented on.
In an earlier chapter the sunshine allowed
Chapter Nineteen: The
Child at the Brookside: Hester
Hester then drags
Analysis: This scene is particularly interesting as
Chapter Twenty: The Minister in a Maze: Dimmesdale returns to town thoroughly aware of having a new perception on life. He has much more energy than when he left only two days earlier, and everything looks different to him. Three times in a row he is approached by various people, and he struggles not to utter blasphemy. He is even tempted to teach dirty words to a group of small Puritan children.
Mistress Hibbins overhears him complain that he is haunted and tempted. She stops and asks Dimmesdale when he will be returning to the forest, so that she may join him. He tells her he is never going back, to which she replies that at midnight they will soon be together in the forest. She then departs, leaving Dimmesdale terrified of what he had done with Hester.
Dimmesdale finally returns home and enters his study. Soon thereafter Chillingworth enters and offers to make some medicine for Dimmesdale so that he will have enough energy to write his Election Sermon. The Election Sermon is meant to be the highlight of the clergyman's career to date, and is an extremely important speech. Dimmesdale declines the offer and instead orders some food, which he eats 'with ravenous appetite.' He then sits down and starts writing his sermon, continuing all through the night and even well into the morning.
Analysis: Dimmesdale's confusion and changed spirit
are clearly the result of his passionate bond with Hester in the woods.
However, the evil thoughts that he keeps having are difficult to explain. It is
likely that Hester has infected him with her passion to the point that he is
willing to break with the Puritanical strictness and start 'living'
in the emotional sense. However, he naturally assumes that the devil is at work
instead, and asks, 'Did I make a contract with him in the forest, and sign
it with my blood?' This reference to the Black Man, which Hester claims to
have received her letter from, is a fulfillment of
Mistress Hibbins approaches Dimmesdale in this chapter and invites him into the woods, much the way she spoke with Hester in Chapter Seven. This again foreshadows a reunion in the forest where the sin which Hester and Dimmesdale committed will be completed.
Chapter Twenty-one: The
New England Holiday: Hester
A group of sailors is also in the town, planning to leave the next day. Hester and Dimmesdale have worked a plan to escape on their ship. However, Roger Chillingworth goes and talks to the ship's captain, who then comes over to Hester. He tells her that he is adding Chillingworth to the crew for the voyage, since he can always use another physician. Hester barely reacts in her outward expression, but after the captain goes she sees Chillingworth smiling at her.
Analysis: This is Chillingworth's final victory over both Hester and Dimmesdale. He effectively has stopped them from being able to leave the next day, and thus thinks that revenge is finally his. However, as was said before, Chillingworth is actually only deluding himself. Events are unfolding far faster than either he or Hester realize, and his coup over the lovers will actually have no effect on the conclusion.
Chapter Twenty-two: The
Procession: A large
parade of soldier and magistrates goes through the town. Dimmesdale is towards
the end of the procession, and appears to have far more energy than ever
Mistress Hibbins comes up to Hester and tells her that she knows Dimmesdale and Hester met in the woods. She indicates that she knows about Dimmesdale having received the badge of sin, and that he is hiding it. She then says that the Black Man has 'a way of ordering matters so that the mark shall be disclosed in open daylight to the eyes of all the world.'
Hester is crushed by this new information. She stands still, and is soon surrounded by many people who are trying to get a glimpse of the scarlet letter on her breast.
Analysis: The foreshadowing was that Mistress Hibbins would eventually meet Dimmesdale and Hester. But here it is revealed that she already knows about their sins and does not need to meet them anymore. The true meaning of her previous words is that she will meet them in the afterlife, since they are all sinner's together.
Hester's location, directly next to the scaffold, is the strongest indicator that a revelation is about to occur. It directly foreshadows the events which will soon take place there, and leaves no doubt about the fact that Dimmesdale will soon join her.
Chapter Twenty-three: Revelation of the Scarlet Letter: Dimmesdale finishes his sermon, and the crowd erupts in loud applause. It marks the highest point of Dimmesdale's life. Dimmesdale then loses the energy which had sustained him ever since meeting Hester in the forest. He slowly walks over to the scaffold and pillory.
When he arrives, he calls out, 'Hester, come
hither! Come, my little
Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold and calls Hester, who slowly comes over to him. Chillingworth bitterly tells Dimmesdale that there was no place on earth he could have escaped to, except on the scaffold, where he would have been safe. Hester is terrified that all three of them will die as a result of this scene.
The crowd is bewildered by the actions of the
minister. He tells them that he should have stood with Hester seven years
earlier. Dimmesdale then indicates that he has secretly worn the badge of the
scarlet letter the whole time, without anyone knowing it.
Dimmesdale then sinks down to his knees and asks
Analysis: This scene marks the final culmination of
The ending is quite rapid and culminates in
Dimmesdale's death. This is agony for Hester to watch, because she still loves
Dimmesdale. However, the ending also illustrates the fact that neither Hester
nor Chillingworth were able to control the final events. Instead, the
inspiration really did come from
Dimmesdale dies, Roger Chillingworth also passes away. He leaves all of his
Arthur Dimmesdale: an eminent minister in
Black Man: a name for the devil. The legend speaks of a Black Man who inhabits the woods and gets people to write their names in his book, using their own blood as ink.
General Miller: the Oldest Inhabitant of the Customs House. He has the independent position of Collector, which allows him to avoid political shuffling of positions. As such, he also protects the other men from being fired, and is the reason why many of the employees are old.
Governor Bellingham: the former governor and the
man who wants to take
Hester Prynne: the main character of The Scarlet
Letter. Hester is the mother of
Inspector: the patriarch of the Customs House. His father created the post for him and he has retained it ever since. He is considered one of the happiest workers, likely because he knows he will never be removed from his post.
John Wilson: the eldest clergyman in
Jonathan Pue: an ancient Surveyor of the Customs
Mistress Hibbins: the sister of Governor Bellingham. She is said to have been a witch, and rumors told of her stealing into the woods during the night.
Roger Chillingworth: Hester's husband from the
The novel opens with Hester being led to the scaffold where she is to be publicly shamed for having committed adultery. Hester is forced to wear the letter 'A' on her gown at all times. She has stitched a large scarlet 'A' onto her dress with gold thread, giving the letter an air of elegance.
Chillingworth visits Hester after she is returned to the prison. He tells her that he will find out who the man was, and that he will read the truth on the man's heart. He then forces her to promise never to reveal his true identity.
Hester moves into a cottage bordering the woods.
Roger Chillingworth earns a reputation as being a
good physician. He uses his reputation to get transferred into the same home as
Arthur Dimmesdale, an ailing minister. Chillingworth eventually discovers that
Dimmesdale is the true father of
One night Dimmesdale is so overcome with shame
about hiding his secret that he walks to the scaffold where Hester was publicly
humiliated. He stands on the scaffold and imagines the whole town watching him
with a letter emblazoned on his chest. While standing there, Hester and
When a meteor illuminates the three people standing on the scaffold, they see Roger Chillingworth watching them. Dimmesdale tells Hester that he is terrified of Chillingworth, who offers to take Dimmesdale home. Hester realizes that Chillingworth is slowly killing Dimmesdale, and that she has to help him.
A few weeks later Hester sees Chillingworth picking
herbs in the woods. She tells him that she is going to reveal the fact that he
is her husband to Dimmesdale. He tells her that
Hester finds a ship which will carry all three of them, and it works out that the ship is due to sail the day after Dimmesdale gives his Election Sermon. However, during the day of the sermon, Chillingworth gets the ship's captain to agree to take him on board as well. Hester does not know how to get out of this dilemma.
Dimmesdale gives his Election Sermon, and it
receives the highest accolades of any preaching he has ever performed. He then
unexpectedly walks to the scaffold and stands on it, in full view of the
gathered masses. Dimmesdale calls Hester and
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