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The Scarlet Letter


by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"The Scarlet Letter" written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the
mid-Nineteenth century is a tale of human tragedy, which
attempts to convey a moral. It was well researched and
apparently portrays the era of Puritanism accurately. In
fact, the setting for the story is described in great
detail in the first chapter. This book is preceded by a
long essay entitled "The Custom House" which describes in
excruciating detail Hawthorne's background research for the
book and his finding of foolscap sheets and a scarlet
letter "A". The backbone of the Scarlet Letter is its main
The main character of this book, Hester Prynne, was
supposedly the heroine of the story. It was she, who at the
beginning of the book was found guilty of having a child by
someone who is not her husband. She is forced to go to
prison, and wear a scarlet "A" on her clothing for the rest
of her life, so that she may be judged wherever she goes.
It's obvious that the author wanted to portray Hester as
somewhat of a victim, which is partially the case. 

Arthur Dimmesdale was the pastor at the church that Hester
attended as well as the father of her child. Until much
later in his life, he convinced Hester to not name him as
the father of her child. In typical fashion, his
justification for this is that he feels that it will look
bad for his church if his personal misdeeds became public
knowledge. He becomes physically ill later in the book
because of his immense guilt for his supposed misdeed.
Pearl, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale's daughter,
appears throughout the book. She is described as
intelligent and inquisitive. She is also mischievous which
many people conveniently conclude indicates that she is a
demon offspring, and a living manifestation of sin. 

The first chapter of the story entitled "The Prison Door"
is a depressing account of the prison, and sets the mood
for this entire story. It describes in great detail the
darkness and unsightliness of the acts which are to follow.
The actual story does not begin until chapter 2, in which
the public is awaiting the public punishment of Hester
Prynne. A group of self righteous women known as "The
Goodwives" discuss Hester Prynne and her supposed sin in
great detail. One of the Good Wives advocates a punishment
of death for Hester. After a while of chatting, Hester is
led from the prison door to the scaffold. She is holding a
young infant and on her skirt is a finely embroidered
letter "A" in a bold red color. The people of Boston stare
at her as she is walked from the prison door to the
During this walk, she succumbs to shame. She becomes very
upset and comes to the realization that she is looked upon
by the Puritans as nothing more than a criminal in their
God's eyes. She then sees a man from her past in the crowd.
This man is her husband whom she had married in England. He
looks in horror as he sees his wife on the scaffold and
more so when he sees the crime which she has committed.
This man is Roger Chillingworth. He tells of his mishaps by
sea and land, and how he was captured by Native Americans.
The governor of the state then asks Hester Prune's minister
Arthur Dimmesdale to demand the name of Hester's partner in
sin. She consistently refuses, so after a long sermon she
is led back to prison.
In the next chapter, Hester is sitting in her cell in the
jail when the jailer brings a physician to the door, named
"Roger Chillingworth" which happens to be her former
husband. The two talk regretfully of their misdeeds towards
each other. Chillingworth, does not want revenge against
Hester, he does however really want to know the name of the
person with whom she committed adultery. He then makes a
request that if she is to keep the secret identity of her
lover a secret, she is also to keep his identity secret.
She is not to tell anyone that he is her husband. Soon
afterwards, Hester is set free from her imprisonment. 

For reasons not understandable she decides to stay in
Boston. She decides to move into a small cottage outside of
town, near the sea. Hester supports herself and her
daughter, Pearl, by becoming a seamstress. Soon thereafter
her work becomes very popular among the town's women.
During this time, the reader sees Pearl grow from an infant
into a young girl. Pearl is seen as very intelligent, yet
she is very mischievous, and does not respect authority.
Hester and Pearl are always together, and the thing that
always catches Pearls attention more than anything else is
the scarlet A that remains on Hester's chest. Hester
worries about Pearl greatly because among many other
things, Pearl denies the existence of God. Later it is
heard that there is some discussion that Pearl should be
taken away from Hester because they feel that she is not a
fit mother.. Hester loves her daughter and wants to keep
her, so she goes to the Governor's mansion. She arrives at
the mansion and is greeted by a guard. She is admitted into
the hallway where she notices four men walking towards her.
These men are the Governor, Reverend John Wilson, Reverend
Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth.
The governor does not believe that Hester is fit to raise a
child in a Christian manner. He asks Pearl questions, and
she answers them wrongly on purpose. As the governor is
about to take Pearl away, Hester appeals to Reverend
Dimmesdale to convince the governor that since Pearl was
given to Hester, she reserved the right to keep her.
With the help of the Reverend, Hester is allowed to keep
her daughter.


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