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 characters. 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
stare at her as she is walked from the prison door to the scaffold. 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 . 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.