A stark and allegorical tale of adultery, guilt and social repression in Puritan New England, The Scarlet Letter is a foundational work of American literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne's exploration of the dichotomy between the public and private self, internal passion and external convention,... read more
Hester is 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. Hester carries Pearl,... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Hester is 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. Hester carries Pearl, her daughter, with her. On the scaffold she is asked to reveal the name of Pearl's father, but she refuses. In the crowd Hester recognizes her husband from Amsterdam, Roger Chillingworth.
Chillingworth visits Hester after she is returned to the prison. He tells her that he will find out who the man was, and he will read the truth on the man's heart. Chillingworth then forces her to promise never to reveal his true identity as her cuckolded husband.
Hester moves into a cottage bordering the woods. She and Pearl live there in relative solitude. Hester earns her money by doing stitchwork for local dignitaries, but she often spends her time helping the poor and sick. Pearl grows up to be wild, even refusing to obey her mother.
Roger Chillingworth earns a reputation as 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 Pearl, at which point he spends every moment trying to torment the minister. 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 Pearl arrive. He asks them to stand with him, which they do. Pearl then asks him to stand with her the next day at noon.
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 Dimmesdale.
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 Providence is now in charge of their fates, and she may do as she sees fit. Hester takes Pearl into the woods, where they wait for Dimmesdale to arrive. He is surprised to see them, but he confesses to Hester that he is desperate for a friend who knows his secret. She comforts him and tells him Chillingworth's true identity. He is furious but finally agrees that they should run away together. He returns to town with more energy than he has ever shown before.
Hester finds a ship that 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. But on the day of the sermon, Chillingworth persuades the ship's captain 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 Pearl to come to him. Chillingworth tries to stop him, but Dimmesdale laughs and tells him that he cannot win.
Hester and Pearl join Dimmesdale on the scaffold. Dimmesdale then tells the people that he is also a sinner like Hester, and that he should have assumed his rightful place by her side over seven years earlier. He then rips open his shirt to reveal a scarlet letter on his flesh. Dimmesdale falls to his knees and dies on the scaffold.
Hester and Pearl leave the town for a while, and several years later Hester returns. No one hears from Pearl again, but it is assumed that she has gotten married and has had children in Europe. Hester never removes her scarlet letter, and when she passes away she is buried in the site of King's Chapel.
“In such emergencies, Hester's nature showed itself warm and rich; a wellspring of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head of that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world's heavy hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling……They said that it meant 'Able'; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.”
“Ever and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man's soul were on fire, and kept on smoldering duskily within his breast, until, by some causal puff of passion, it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed, as speedily as possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the kind had happened. In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil's office.”
“Strengthened by years of hard and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so inadequate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that night, abased by sin, and half maddened by the ignominy that was still new, when they had talked together in the prison chamber. She had climbed her way, since then, to a higher point. The old man, on the other hand, had brought himself nearer to her level, or perhaps below it, by the revenge which he had stooped for."”
“Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart! Else it may be their miserable fortune, when some mightier touch than their own may have awakened all her sensibilities, to be reproached even for the calm content, the marble image of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her as the warm reality.”
“But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness. . . . The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”
“One token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another.”
“A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part.”
“Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”
“To the untrue man, the whole universe is false.”
“It is to the credit of human nature that except where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love.”
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
“Why should he toil and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him? Why should he work for his living here, or go to dig gold in California, when he is so soon to be made happy, at monthly intervals, with a little pile of glittering coin out of his Uncle's pocket?”
The Custom House: Introductory
Chapter 1 - The Prison-Door
Chapter 2 - The Market-Place
Chapter 3 - The Recognition
Chapter 4 - The Interview
Chapter 5 - Hester at Her Needle
Chapter 6 - Pearl
Chapter 7 - The Governor's Hall
Chapter 8 - The Elf-Child and the Minister
Chapter 9 - The Leech
Chapter 10 - The Leech and His Patient
Chapter 11 - The Interior of a Heart
Chapter 12 - The Minister's Vigil
Chapter 13 - Another View of Hester
Chapter 14 - Hester and the Physician
Chapter 15 - Hester and Pearl
Chapter 16 - A Forest Walk
Chapter 17 - The Pastor and His Parishioner
Chapter 18 - A Flood of Sunshine
Chapter 19 - The Child at the Brook-Side
Chapter 20 - The Minister in a Maze
Chapter 21 - The New England Holiday
Chapter 22 - The Procession
Chapter 23 - The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter
Chapter 24 - Conclusion
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