Scarlet Letter Chapter Summaries Chapter 1: The Prison Door The first chapter pretty much sets the scene for the rest of the book. It describes a door, the door to the prison in seventeenth century Boston. The door is studded with iron spikes and is surrounded with overgrown weeds and one rosebush. The narrator suggests that it’s a reminder of nature’s kindness to the prisoners. It says it will provide a “sweet moral blossom” in the face of distress. Chapter 2: The Market-Place The women standing outside the prison are smugly talking about Hester Prynne’s sin.
Hester emerges from the prison looking proud, and holding an infant, and made her way to the scaffold, where she is supposed to be publicly damned. Hester has a gold and scarlet letter “A” on her chest, which means she has committed adultery and has had an illegitimate child, the letter “A” stands for “Adulterer”. The beadle calls Hester forward, the children taunt her, and the adults stare. She starts to have flashbacks of her parents standing outside their home in rural England. Suddenly becoming aware of the crowd, she agonizingly remembers her present punishment for her shameful crime. Chapter 3:
The Recognition In the crowd that is surrounding Hester, she spots her husband, who promised her he’d follow her to America, but never did. Even though he is dressed in an outlandish combination of European clothes and Native American dress, she recognizes him by his slightly deformed shoulders. He gestured to her to not reveal his identity, then turns to a stranger in the crowd and asks about her crime and punishment, stating he’s been imprisoned by some Native Americans, and is just arriving in Boston. The stranger tells him about her adultery charges after she was sent to America by her husband.
He replies by saying that Hester’s husband must have been foolish to think that he could keep a young wife happy. Then he proceeds to ask the stranger about the baby’s father, in which the stranger says that she refuses to reveal the sinners name. He also says that as her punishment, Hester has been sentenced to stand for three hours on the scaffold in front of the crowd, and to wear the scarlet letter on her chest for the rest of her life. The narrator then introduces the town fathers, Governor Bellingham, Reverend Wilson, and Reverend Dimmesdale.
Dimmesdale, a young minister is renowned for religious fervor, is delegated to demand that Hester tell the name of her child’s father. But she refuses, and he does not pursue her further. She states that her child will receive a heavenly father, and not an earthy one. Reverend Wilson then delivers a condemnatory sermon, and frequently refers to the scarlet letter, which the crowd seems to see glowing and burning upon Hester. She bears the sermon patiently, hushing her child, Pearl, when she starts to whine. At the end, Hester is led back to the prison.
Chapter 4: The Interview Hester and her husband come face to face for the first time when he is called to the prison to provide medical support. Chillingworth, as he calls himself, promised the jailer to make Hester more agreeable to authority, as he offers her a cup of medicine. His gaze makes Hester shudder, and she refuses to drink his concoction, for she thinks he is poisoning her. He assures her he wants her to live, so he can have his settling of scores. He chastises himself for thinking he could keep a beautiful wife like her happy.
He tries to get her to reveal her lovers name, telling her that he will detect signs of sympathy that will guide him to the accountable man. She, yet again, refuses, he makes her promise not to let slip his identity either. His demonical grin and delight at her troubles lead her to blurt out the speculation that he may be the “Black Man”, the devil in disguise, come to damn her soul. Chillingworth replies that it’s not the comfort of her soul that his presence jeopardizes, implying that he plans to hunt for out her unidentified lover. He has vengeance on his mind.
Chapter 5: Hester at Her Needle Hester’s prison sentence is over, and even though she can leave Boston, she chooses not to. She moves to an abandoned house on the outskirts of town. She remains isolated from everything and everyone, including the town fathers, respected women, children, and strangers. She’s a fallen woman, a warning tale for everyone to see. Although she’s now an outcast, she supports herself by her original and unusual talent in needlework. Her beautiful embroidery is rendered fit to be worn by the governor, despite its disgraceful source.
Although her artistry defies the Puritan codes for fashion, it’s in demand for burial shrouds, christening gowns, and officials’ robes. Through her work, Hester touches every important event in life, except for marriage. It is deemed inappropriate for brides to wear Hester Prynne’s designs. Even though Hester has had success, she still feels lonely and is constantly aware of her isolation. As the shame builds in her, she searches for companionship or sympathy, but no reward. She devotes some of her free time to charities, but that seems to be more punishment that comfort, those she help often are insulting her.
Chapter 6: Pearl Hester’s daughter, Pearl, is described in great detail this chapter. The narrator describes Pearl as an “outcast” by saying Pearl in an “imp of evil, emblem and product of sin”. Pearl understands her difference and says “I have no heavenly father! ” Because her mother is her only friend, she is also subject to the town’s unkindness. Knowing that she has no one in the world, Pearl makes some imaginary friends to keep her company. She is also fascinated by her mother’s scarlet letter, and is constantly playing with it, which is torture to her mother.
And sometimes her mother wonders if Pearl really is the demon child everyone deems her to be. Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall Hester goes to Governor Bellingham’s mansion for two things. One: to deliver a pair of gloves she has made for him, and two: to see if the rumors, about pearl being taken away from her, are true. Some townspeople, and apparently the governor, too, suspect pearl of being a demon-child. And they reason that is Pearl is a demon-child, she should be taken away from Hester for her own sake. And if she is, indeed, a human child, she should be taken away for her own sake, and be placed in a better home away from Hester.
On their way to see the governor, Hester and Pearl are attacked by some children who taunt them, and throw mud. Then Pearl becomes angry and frightens the children off. The governor’s mansion is very stuffy and tight. It’s in the style of English aristocracy, with family pictures and armor, which he has worn in many battles with the Native Americans. Pearl seems captivated by the armor and points out her mother’s reflection in it. Hester is mortified to see the giant scarlet letter dominating the picture. Pearl starts screaming for a rose from the rose bush outside the window, but is silenced by a group of men who walk through the door.
Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister Bellingham, Dimmesdale, Wilson and Chillingworth enter the room and start taunting Pearl by calling her a demon-child. When they see Hester is present, they ask why she should be able to keep her daughter. She says that she will be able to teach Pearl a lesson she has learned from her shame. They doubt her and proceed to test Pearl on her religious knowledge. Pearl refuses to answer the questions, and that doesn’t settle well with Wilson. Hester then begs Dimmesdale to speak for her and Pearl. He replies and says that god sent Pearl as a blessing and a curse.
After saying that, Bellingham and Wilson both agree to let Hester and Pearl stay together. Oddly enough, Pearl seems to like Dimmesdale. She puts his hand on her cheek. Irritated because Hester seems to have won, Chillingworth tries to get the men to revive the investigation on whom Hester’s lover is. They refuse; saying god will tell when he sees it as appropriate. As Hester is leaving, Mistress Hibbins, the governor’s sister, invites her to the witches’ gathering. Hester says that if Pearl was to be taken away from her, she would’ve gone. The narrator says that Pearl seems to save Hester from Satan’s temptations.
Chapter 9: The Leech Roger Chillingworth has been hiding his real name from everyone, except Hester, who has been under oath to secrecy. When Chillingworth arrived to Boston, hoping to see his wife embodying warmth and cheerfulness of home, he was shocked to see her embodying sin for everyone to see. Chillingworth has become the town doctor, and since the other doctor seconded as a barber, he was welcomed and respected. He has knowledge in English science and the Native American remedies, since he was captured by them, and lived with them for quite some time.
The town sometimes refers to the doctor as a leech, referring to the common nickname for physicians at the time. The town has been concerned of Dimmesdale and his growing medical problems, so they encourage Dimmesdale to let the doctor live with him and take care of him full time. So that Chillingworth can diagnose and cure Dimmesdale. The town’s people were thankful for Chillingworth’s help, but eventually become curious of his past. And they began to think his face began to take on a face of evil, and they began to suspect that Chillingworth was the devil. Chapter 10: The Leech and His Patient
Chillingworth persistently tries to find out what Dimmesdale’s illness is. He tries to get Dimmesdale to confide in him the details of his personal life, but Dimmesdale doesn’t trust him or any other man fro that matter, and will not. Chillingworth is constantly devoting his time to Dimmesdale, and when he isn’t with him, he finds roots and herbs to give to him to try and cure his illness. Once, Dimmesdale asks Chillingworth about a strange plant, and Chillingworth tell shim about how he found it growing by a grave, and says it’s the buried person’s sin being confessed.
They then get into an uncomfortable conversation about confessions and burying one’s secrets. Then they hear a cry from outside, and they look to see Pearl and Hester walking through the graveyard. Chillingworth remarks saying Hester isn’t a woman who lives with buried sin, she wears it on her chest. Then Dimmesdale asks whether Chillingworth thinks he’s going to live or die, and Chillingworth says “it may be, yet not so sick but that an instructed and watchful physician might well hope to cure you. But—I know not what to say—the disease is what I seem to know, yet know it not. Meaning that he isn’t sure, giving Dimmesdale’s overall condition. Chillingworth then asks about Dimmesdale’s spiritual condition, Dimmesdale becomes aggravated and leaves the room. Later, Dimmesdale apologizes for his behavior, and the two are friends again. Chapter 11: The Interior of a Heart Chillingworth continues to play mind games with Dimmesdale, making his revenge as horrible as he can. The minister often regards the doctor because he can’t assign a rational bias to his feelings and he continues to suffer. His suffering does help him deliver some very powerful sermons, and the topic for them was the topic of sin.
The so deeply wants to tell every one of his sins, but he cannot bring himself to do it. The guilt keeps him up at night, and he starts to see hallucinations. One of these visions has Pearl and Hester in it. Hester pointed her forefinger at her scarlet letter on her chest, then at Dimmesdale’s. Unable to relieve himself of his guilt from his sin, Dimmesdale come to the conclusion that “The whole universe is false… it shrinks to nothing n his grasp”. He begins to torture himself physically with whips; he doesn’t eat, and kept himself awake for extended amounts of time.
He eventually decided to stand on the scaffold where, years before, Hester suffered for her sin. Chapter 12: The Minister’s Vigil Dimmesdale mounts the scaffold. The pain caused by his guilt makes him scream, and he’s scared that the townspeople will wake up and come to see what he’s doing. Lucky for him, no one does. He starts thinking strange thoughts. He laughs to himself as he sees Reverend Wilson leaving Governor Winthrop’s deathbed. After almost being seen, Dimmesdale begins to wonder what it would be like if the town saw him up on the scaffold, the place for public shame.
Dimmesdale laughs again, and Pearl laughs back at him. He didn’t notice she was there. Pearl and Hester were also at Winthrop’s deathbed because Hester was instructed to make his burial robe. Dimmesdale asks them is they want to join him on the scaffold, and they do. Pearl asks Dimmesdale if he will stand with her and her mother the next afternoon, to which he replies “Not now child, another time. ” When she asks when, he says at the Great Judgment Day. All of a sudden, a meteor flashes across the sky. When the minister looks up, he sees a scarlet “A”.
At the same time, Pearl points out someone in the distance. It’s Chillingworth. Dimmesdale asks Hester who he really is, but she can’t tell. Pearl says she knows, but only whispers gibberish into his ear. He asks if she is mocking him, she says it’s revenge for him not standing in public with them. Chillingworth coaxes Dimmesdale down off the scaffold, saying he must have sleepwalked his way up there. When Dimmesdale asks Chillingworth how he found him, Chillingworth says he too was walking home from Winthrop’s deathbed. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale return home.
The next day, Dimmesdale preached his most powerful sermon ever. After the sermon, the church sexton hands Dimmesdale a black glove he found on the scaffold last night. The sexton recognized it as Dimmesdale’s, and concluded that Satan was up to mischief. The sexton also speaks of the meteor that was in the shape of an “A” and the townspeople say it didn’t have anything to do with Hester, but to mean “Angel” meaning Winthrop has passed. Chapter 13: Another View of Hester It’s been seven years since Pearl has been born, and Hester has become more social.
She takes food to the poor, nurses the sick, and is a source of support in the community. Even though she is still disrespected, more people are starting to see the “A” as “Able”. Hester has also changed. She isn’t a kindhearted woman; she is now “a bare harsh outline” of her old self. She also thinks a lot. About Pearl, and how she thinks something is amiss in her, and about how keeping Chillingworth’s secret might be harmful for Dimmesdale. Chapter 14: Hester and the Physician Hester resolves to ask Chillingworth to stop disturbing the minister.
One day she and Pearl encounter him near the beach, gathering plants for his medicines. When Hester approaches him, he tells her with a grin that he has heard “good tidings” of her, and that in fact the town fathers have recently considered allowing her to remove the scarlet letter. Hester disregards Chillingworth’s dishonest friendliness, telling him that the letter cannot be removed by human authority. Divine fate, she says, will make it fall from her chest when it is time for it to do so. She then informs Chillingworth that she feels it is time to tell the minister the truth about Chillingworth’s identity.
From their conversation, it is clear that Chillingworth now knows with certainty that Dimmesdale was Hester’s lover and that Hester is aware of his knowledge. Chapter 15: Hester and Pearl Hester realizes that she hates her husband, even though that isn’t allowed. She says if she was once happy with him, it was only half of her. Pearl has been playing in the tide pools on the beach, pretending to be a mermaid by putting seaweed on herself on the shape of an “A”. She says it’s “freshly green, instead of scarlet. ” She hopes her mom will ask about the letter, and Hester inquires whether Pearl knows the meaning of the letter on her chest.
They then talk about the meaning of the letter. Pearl thinks the letter has something to do with the way Dimmesdale is constantly clutching his heart, Hester is unsettled by her insightfulness. She then realizes Pearl is too young to know the truth, but Pearl keeps asking about the letter and Dimmesdale for the next several days. Chapter 16: A Forest Walk Intent on telling Dimmesdale who Chillingworth really is, Hester waits for the minister in the forest, because she heard he would be passing though on his way home. Pear is with her mother and she plays in the sunshine along the way. The sun seems to shun Hester, though.
As they wait, Pearl asks Hester about the “Black Man”. When Pearl sees Dimmesdale, she asks if he’s the “Black Man”. But Hester doesn’t answer, and she tries to get Pearl to go out in the woods to play, but she won’t go. Hester then yells “it’s no Black Man! … it is the minister! ”. With that, Pearl goes off to the wood to play. But before she leaves, she wonders out loud if the minister holds his heart because the “Black Man” left a mark there too. Chapter 17: The Pastor and His Parishioner Hester and Dimmesdale finally are able to talk in private; they hold hands and go sit by a brook.
Hester tells Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her husband. The news causes a “dark configuration” in Dimmesdale, and he begins to express disapproval of Hester, blaming her for his pain. Hester pulls him to her chest and buries his face in the scarlet letter and begs for his forgiveness. Eventually Dimmesdale forgives her. He goes on to say “[Chillingworth] has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. ” Dimmesdale asks Hester that if, even though he knows Chillingworth’s secret, if Chillingworth will continue to keep theirs. In which she replies he will keep the secret, but he will seek great revenge.
Hester then tells Dimmesdale that he shouldn’t live with Chillingworth anymore. But Dimmesdale doesn’t know where to go. They then decided to take a ship to Europe, where they can live with Pearl in peace. Chapter 18: A Flood of Sunshine Their trip to Europe excites both Dimmesdale and Hester. Dimmesdale says he can feel the joy in him body again. Hester also throws the scarlet letter from her chest, coming back to her former beauty. Sunlight suddenly brightens the forest. Hester speaks to Dimmesdale and she is excited that her daughter will finally know his father.
The calls Pearl over and she approaches them cautiously. Chapter 19: The child at the Brookside Pearl seemed very nervous about walking over to her parents; she made Hester put her scarlet letter back on her chest before she would go near. Pearl finally goes to Hester and gives her, and the scarlet letter, a kiss. Hester tries to get Pearl to embrace Dimmesdale as well, but before she tells her that he is her father. Pearl, aware of some sort of arrangement, asks “Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town? because he will not, Pearl takes back her kiss she gave him, and runs back to the brook and tries to rub it off. Chapter 20: The Minister in a Maze As Dimmesdale returns to town, he finds himself wanting to tell everyone he sees that he is a changed man. He and Hester have decided that they will leave for England in four days on a ship where Hester knows the crew through her charity works. They chose England because the environment is better for Dimmesdale’s delicate health. S he is walking past the church; he has to hold back his urge to yell profane remarks.
He runs into mistress Hibbins and she offered herself as an escort for the next time he goes into the forest. Dimmesdale suggests to himself that he may have made a bargain with mistress Hibbins master, the devil. When he reaches his house, Dimmesdale tells Chillingworth that he is no longer in need of his medical assistance. Chillingworth wonders if Dimmesdale knows his real identity, but doesn’t ask, not wanting to risk his chances. Dimmesdale sits down to write his sermon for Election Day. With knowledge of his new identity, he throws his old manuscript in the fire, and starts on a new one.
Chapter 21: The New England Holiday The narrator describes another public gathering in the marketplace. This gathering, however, is to celebrate the election of a new governor. Pearl asks Hester if Dimmesdale will hold their hands like he did at the brook, but Hester isn’t listening. Instead she is absorbed in her thoughts, imagining her escape with Dimmesdale and Pearl. She is brought back to reality when she hers a sailor say that Chillingworth will be joining them on their voyage, because the ship needs a doctor, Chillingworth has also told the captain that he is part of Hester’s party.
Hester looks up to see Chillingworth looking at her, a smirk across his face. Chapter 22: The Procession As the soldiers and town fathers pass through the marketplace, Hester is disheartened to see the puritan traditions displayed so pomp. And she and the other town people notice that Dimmesdale looks healthy and energetic, better than he has looked in quite some time. Even though it has only been a few days since she saw him last at the brook, Pearl hardly seems to recognize the minister. She tells Hester she wants to go give him a kiss of her own, but Hester scolds her for the thought.
Dimmesdale’s vigor seems to sadden Hester because it makes him seem distant. She begins to question the smartness of their plans. Mistress Hibbins then comes to talk to her about Dimmesdale. She suggests that the devil is Pearl’s real father, and invites the child to go on a which’s ride with her sometime in the future. Then the narrator interrupts, and says that mistress Hibbins is soon to be executed as a which. After she leaves, Hester takes her place at the foot of the scaffold to listen to Dimmesdale’s speech.
Pearl return to her mother with a message from the ship’s master saying that Chillingworth is going to make arrangements to get Dimmesdale on board and that she only has to worry about her and her child. While worrying about the new arrangement, she suddenly realizes that everyone around her is looking at her. Chapter 23: The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter Dimmesdale finishes his sermon which mainly focuses on god and the communities of mankind with a special reference to New England. Dimmesdale has proclaimed that the people of New England shall be chosen by god.
The crowd is moved by the sermon. The people murmur to each other about how that was the best sermon that minister has ever given. Dimmesdale makes his way to the scaffold, and asks Hester and Pearl to join him. Dimmesdale didn’t hear Chillingworth’s attempt to stop him, so he continued to mount the scaffold with Hester and Pearl. He says god led him there, and he calls himself “the one sinner of the world. ” After he finishes, he stands upright and tells the crowd that he, too has a scarlet letter, then he removes his garments to reveal it. Then he repeatedly yelled “You have escaped me!
You have escaped me! ” Pearl kissed him, and it seemed like a spell was suddenly broken. Then Dimmesdale said goodbye to Hester, and died. Chapter 24: The Conclusion The narrator discusses the proceedings that followed Dimmesdale’s death and reports on the fates of the other major characters. The townspeople who witnessed the minister’s death can’t agree on what they saw. Mostly they agreed on that they saw a scarlet letter just like Hester’s. Some say it was from Chillingworth’s drugs, others say it was from Dimmesdale’s self torture, or his inner remorse.
Some even say that that didn’t see anything on his chest. The narrator says that group is Dimmesdale’s friends, trying to protect his reputation. Chillingworth dies away within a year of Dimmesdale’s death. Leaving a generous inheritance to Pearl. Shortly after Chillingworth’s death, Hester and Pearl disappear. And eventually the story of the scarlet letter fades to a myth or a legend. Later, Hester returns alone to live in her cottage, and eventually dies and is buried right next to Dimmesdale, and they share a headstone. The narrator sums up the whole narrative: “On a field, sable, the letter A, gules. ”