The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Notes Nathaniel Hawthorne
Born July 4, 1804, in Salem, Mass. Reclusive at times Wrote Twice-Told Tales, The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Letter, etc. Married Sophia Peabody and fathered Una Died in 1864 Buried in Concord, Massachusetts Great-great-great-great grandfather, John Hathorne, was judge at Salem witch trials
Nathaniel Hawthorne Background Information The novel is set in the mid 1600s in Boston, Massachusetts. The plot encompasses a seven year period. The plot involves the love triangle of wife-lover-husband.
The major theme of the novel is developed in the context of good vs. evil. What is Puritanism? Puritan beliefs: An emphasis on private study of the Bible A desire to see education and enlightenment for the masses (especially so they could read the Bible for themselves)
Simplicity in worship, the exclusion of vestments, images, candles, etc. Did not celebrate traditional holidays which they believed to be in violation of the regulative principle of worship. Believed the Sabbath was still obligatory for Christians, although they believed the Sabbath had been changed to Sunday Some approved of the churchs involvement with the courts Point of View Third
Person Omniscient: There is no limit to what the reader knows. We hear the inner the thoughts of all the characters. Characters
Hester Prynne- wearer of the scarlet letter Pearl- child of Hester; living symbol of Hesters sin Roger Chillingworth- learned scholar; doctor Arthur Dimmesdale- admired young minister Governor Bellingham- governor and
magistrate of Massachusetts Bay Colony Rev. John Wilson- senior minister of colony Mistress Hibbins- Gov. Bellinghams sister Major characters in The Scarlet Letter Arthur Dimmesd lo ale ve r
s u h Roger Chillingwor d n th a b
Hester Prynne daughter Pearl Symbolism The Scarlet Letter - The letters meaning shifts as time passes. Originally intended to mark Hester as an adulterer, the A eventually comes to stand for Able.
Meteor - As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter XII, a meteor traces out an A in the night sky. To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear a mark of shame just as Hester does. The meteor is interpreted differently by the rest of the community, which thinks that it stands for Angel and marks Governor Winthrops entry into heaven.
Symbolism Pearl - Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl is a sort of living version of her mothers scarlet letter. She is the physical consequence of sexual sin. Rose Bush - The rosebush symbolizes the
ability of nature to endure and outlast mans activities. Introduction Information The Custom House Narrator is nameless resembles Hawthorne Narrator is chief executive officer of custom house in Salem customs taxes paid on foreign
imports into Salem custom house building where people came to pay taxes Introduction Information The Custom House Narrator is bored because few people come to Salem now Finds a bundle with a scarlet and gold A embroidered on it
Holds it to his chest and it appears to burn him Introduction Information The Custom House Manuscript is written by John Pue about an incident 100 years before his time as surveyor of the custom house
Narrator re-writes the tale which becomes what the reader is reading Chapter 1 Notes Chapter 1 - Summary This
chapter sets the scene (17th c Boston) Drably dressed Puritans gathered in front of the prison In front of the prison is a growth of weeds, and beside it grows a wild rose bush. Chapter 1 Analysis The
rust, decay, and ugliness foreshadow the gloom of the novel. Two landmarks ---the prison & cemetery point to themes of punishment & death. Although the rose is beautiful, it is a striking contrast to everything else. Chapter 2 Notes
Chapter 2 - Summary Puritans are gathered in front of the prison to witness a public punishment. Most of the women appear selfrighteous in discussing Hester Prynnes sin. Proud & beautiful, Hester emerges from the prison wearing an elaborately embroidered scarlet letter A on her dress.
The A stands for adultery. Chapter 2 - Summary Hester is carrying a three-month old infant in her arms. The crowd is unsympathetic as Hester walks toward the scaffold of the pillory. Chapter 2 - Summary
While standing on the pillory, Hester dreams of her past life in England (with her father) and on the Continent (with her misshapen scholar husband). Stern faces watch Hester. Hester is painfully aware of her present position of shame and punishment. Chapter 2 Analysis Pearl
is the symbol of Hesters sin. Roger Chillingworth (the misshapen scholar) is Hesters legal husband. Hawthorne reveals his critical attitude toward Puritan society (probably due to his family background). Chapter 2 Analysis The
goodwives condemn Hester and suggest more violent torture. Hawthorne objected to this type of attitude in early American Puritanism. Hawthorne avoids over-generalizing Puritans by including one character who is somewhat sympathetic toward Hester. This chapter is heavy in historical narrative. Chapter
3 Notes Chapter 3 - Summary In this chapter, Hawthorne reveals that Hester was sent ahead from Europe by her husband. Hester has been in Boston for two years without any word from her husband. Because Hester was with child, she was
not executed for the sin of adultery. Hesters punishment is standing on the scaffold for three hours & wear the symbolic letter for the rest of her life. Chapter 3 - Summary Hesters husband encountered problems in crossing the Atlantic Ocean. At some point, he was held captive. These problems delayed
him from reaching Hester. Hesters husband is upset that the babys father is not sharing in the public punishment. Chapter 3 - Summary Hester dreads talking to her husband. The Reverend Mr. John Wilson is Bostons oldest and most famous minister. The young Reverend Mr. Arthur Dimmesdales voice tone reveals a
kindness toward Hester. Hester refuses to name the father of her child. Pearl cries and screams. Chapter 3 Analysis Reverend Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl. This fact makes his passionate appeal one of the richest
passages of irony in the book (there is a strong undercurrent of personal meaning in Dimmesdales public remarks). Chapter 4 Notes Chapter 4 - Summary Back
in the prison cell, Pearl convulses in pain. Hesters husband poses as a physician by the name of Roger Chillingworth, and does not reveal that he is married to Hester. Although fearful he will harm the baby, Hester allows Chillingworth to give the baby medicine. Still in fear, Hester accepts some sedative. Chapter 4 - Summary
The sedative calms Hester. Hester and her husband talk intimately and sympathetically---both accept a measure of blame for the current situation. Chillingworth does not want revenge against Hester; however, he wants to know who violated his marriage. Chapter 4 - Summary
Since Hester is concealing the identity of her lover, Chillingworth requests that Hester also keep her husbands identity secret. Chillingworth promises not to take the life or damage the reputation of her unknown lover (if Hester doesnt give the name of her husband). Chapter 4 - Summary
Chillingworth warns Hester if she fails to keep his identity secret, then he will hurt Pearls father. Chapter 4 Analysis This is one of the more dramatic chapters of the book.
Regarding the development of Chillingworth, we see both what he has been and what he is to become. Chillingworth is a lonely, gentle scholar who has been robbed of his wife; however, he has an element of self-destruction in his grim determination to discover the man who has caused him offense. Chapter 4 Analysis Hester never pretended to love her
husband. Hester does deeply love Pearls father. It is Hesters concern for Dimmesdale (more than her sense of obliagation to Chillingworth) that persuades her to swear to keep her husbands secret. *This promise will make Hester and her lover suffer later in the book. Chapter 5
Notes Chapter 5 Summary After her imprisonment, Hester is free to leave Boston; however, she
moves into a small thatched cottage on the outskirts of town. Hester supports herself as a seamstress. Her work is in demand for everything but wedding dresses. Hester remains a social outcast. She patiently takes abuse from the townspeople.
The Chapter 5 Analysis primary function of this chapter is to show Hester undergoing penance. Hester goes beyond the letter of the law staying in Boston (atmosphere of torture) when she could leave. Hester dresses in the coarsest and most somber attire when her natural taste is for the rich and beautiful.
Despite Hesters apparent humility and her refusal to strike back, she resents and inwardly rebels against the viciousness of her Puritan persecutors. Chapter 6 Notes Chapter 6 Notes
At age three, Pearl is a physically beautiful, vigorous, and graceful little girl. Pearl has unusual depth of mind but an uncontrollable, fiery
passion (neither threats or kindness of Hester can control this side of Pearl). Hester makes rich, elaborate dresses for Pearl. Chapter 6 Notes Pearls mischief and disrespect for
authority remind Hester of her own sin of the passions. Hester names her daughter Pearl because she came at a great price. Chapter 6 Notes Hester and Pearl rely on one another because they are excluded from respectable society. Pearl does not try to make friends; rather,
she throws rocks and screams at the other children. Pearls only companion in play is her imaginationbut even in her games of makebelieve she never creates friends. Pearl does create make-believe enemies (Puritans) she plans to destroy. Chapter 6 Notes The object that most captures Pearls attention is the scarlet letter on her
mothers dress. As an infant, Pearl grasped at the letter. As a child, Pearl threw wild flowers at the letter. Pearl denies having a Heavenly Father and demands that Hester explain where Pearl came from. Chapter 6 -- Analysis Hesters interpretation of Pearls
behavior as almost supernatural or fiendish takes place primarily in Hesters mind. Hester deeply loves Pearl but cannot understand her and somewhat fears Pearl. Chapter 7 Notes Chapter 7 -- Summary
Hearing that influential citizens are going to take Pearl away from her, Hester goes to Governor Bellinghams mansion. Under the pretext of taking him gloves, Hester plans to plead for the right to keep her daughter. When she is taunted by a group of Puritan children, Pearl screams and threatens the children.
Chapter 7 Summary Leech is an archaic term for a physician. Hester attempts to quiet Pearl who is crying and screaming for one of the red roses from the garden. Chapter 7 -- Analysis The
scarlet A is strengthen by two striking variations: the magnified A in the breastplate, and Pearl as a living version of the scarlet symbol. Chapter 8 Notes Chapter 8 -- Summary The Governor is shocked by Pearls vain and
immodest costume. He doubts Hesters fitness to raise Pearl in a Christian way. The Governor instructs Reverend Wilson to test Pearls knowledge of religious items. Although Hester has taught Pearl much more about religion than most three year olds, Pearl deliberately pretends ignorance. Chapter 8 -- Summary After a plea from Hester, Dimmesdale
persuades the Governor and Wilson to let Pearl remain with her mother (as a blessing from God & as a reminder of sin). Leaving the mansion, Mistress Hibbins (the governors sister) invites Hester to a midnight meeting of witches in the forest. Hester declines. Chapter 8 Analysis For
the first time in three years (since the scaffold) the four main characters are together. This chapter contains the first hints as to Dimmesdale being the father. Dimmesdale has been suffering with his concealed guilt. Chillingworth physically appears more ugly, dark, and misshapen. Chapter 9
Notes Chapter 9 Summary Some Puritans believe that it is as special act of Providence that Chillingworth has arrived and can take care of Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth have separate apartments in the same house. Gradually, the townspeople become suspicious of Chillingworth; however, they
have faith that Dimmesdale is strong enough to overcome his tormentor. Chapter 9 Analysis For Dimmesdale, the relationship with Chillingworth is dangerous. There is a Satanic turn in Chillingworths character Chapter
10 Notes Chapter 10 -- Summary Chillingworth is obsessed with discovering the truth. Chillingworth asks Dimmesdale why a man should be willing to carry secret sins to the grave rather than confessing them during his lifetime. Dimmesdale replies that most men
do confess but that some men do not because they would no longer be able to do Gods work on earth. Chapter 10 -- Summary Chillingworth finds Dimmesdale asleep in a chair. He pulls aside the ministers vestment (ceremonial robe) and finds a letter A carved into the skin.
Chillingworth experiences feelings of wonder, joy, and horror. Chapter 10 Analysis Chillingworth has become diabolical in his determination. As seen in chapter ten, this is the most vicious side of Chillingworth; however, Hawthorne reminds the reader that C had once been kindly, pure, and upright. C did not
choose a path of evil. C is a victim of his need to seek the truth. D is a victim of his own weakness. Dimmesdale is consumed with painful inner suffering. He is wasting away from the struggle with his soul. Chapter 11 Notes Chapter 11 -- Summary Knowing
the secret, Chillingworth begins his unrelenting torture of Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale begins to abhor Chillingworth Dimmesdale tolerates Chillingworth because he feels the dislike stems from an impurity in his own heart. Dimmesdale becomes more popular among the congregation. Ds suffering allows him to sympathize with the sin and suffering of others.
Chapter 11 -- Summary The misplaced adoration (from the congregation) tortures Dimmesdale and he wants to confess. Incapable of the one act necessary for his salvation, Dimmesdale substitutes self-punishment (often by beating himself with a bloody scourge) & walks the house at night.
Chapter 11 -- Analysis Hawthornes irony shows up again in the clever paradox of Dimmesdales futile attempts at public confession. The more D asserts his own sinfulness, the holier the congregation believe him to be. Chapter
12 Notes Chapter 12 -- Summary Realizing the mockery of his standing safe and unseen where he should have stood seven years earlier before the townspeople, Dimmesdale is overcome by a self-abhorrence which leads him to shriek aloud. Dimmesdale tells Pearl he cannot
stand with them on the scaffold the next day but that he will stand with them on judgement day. Hester refuses to reveal Chillingworths identity to Chapter 12 -- Analysis One of the most powerful chapters (due to the symbolism) Hawthorne was a master at
psychological realism (Ds sudden mood changes, self-condemnation, near insanity, subconscious expression of suppressed desires). Ds first two refusals to acknowledge publicly Hester and Pearl may suggest Peters first two denials of Christ. (But perhaps Dimmesdale, like Peter, will have a third opportunity.) Chapter 13 Notes
Chapter 13Summary Hesters untiring services to the sick, the poor, and the troubled have won her much respect among the townspeople who once condemned her. Some people attribute to the embroidered letter a supernatural power to protect its wearer. Hesters warmth, charm, and passion
have been replaced with coldness, severity, and drabness. Chapter 13Summary Only in the care and education of Pearl does Hester demonstrate warmth and enthusiasm (but Pearls abnormal nature baffles and saddens Hester). Hester wonders whether it would be
better if she and Pearl were dead. The fact that she can contemplate suicide indicates that the letter has not done its job. Chapter 13Analysis This chapter helps the reader understand Hester. Chapter
14 Notes Chapter 14--Summary Chillingworth tells Hester that there is talk that she may be allowed to remove the letter. Hester denies the right of the magistrates to remove the letter saying if she were worthy to not have the letter that it would naturally fall away. Hester believes Chillingworth has been
transformed into a devil. Chillingworth blames Dimmesdale for his transformation and says that D has made his purpose in life evil. Chapter 14--Summary Chillingworth tells Hester that she can reveal his identity to Dimmesdale. Hester is not really sinful or fiendlike. Fate has created the tragic
situation. Chapter 14--Analysis Hesters misery (as she senses her responsibility for Dimmesdales suffering & for Chillingworths moral deterioration) evokes the physicians sympathy. The suggestion that Chillingworth is powerless to resist the dictates of fate does not in Hawthornes view, excuse the
physician from responsibility for his actions --- but it does make it possible for the reader to sympathize, while condemning him. Chapter 15 Notes Chapter 15 -- Summary After Pearl arranges eel-grass (in the form of a letter A) on her dress,
Hester tells Pearl that the green letter has no meaning. Pearl says Hesters letter means the same thing as when the minister puts his hand over his heart. Hester says she knows nothing of the ministers heart. Chapter 15 -- Analysis Despite their moment of mutual pity in
the preceding chapter, Hester hates Chillingworth. By involving her in the unnatural marriage, Chillingworth set off the chain of events leading to her present suffering, and Dimmesdales. Despite Hester going beyond the letter of the law in accepting punishment, she is not at heart truly repentant. Chapter 15 -- Analysis The
pathetic loneliness of Hesters position becomes vivid as Hawthorne shows her wondering whether she might not make of Pearl a real friend and confide to her at least part of the truth about the letter A. Only two adults besides Hester know the full story and neither is convenient or pleasant to talk with about the issue. Hester has no one to talk to. Chapter 15 -- Analysis
It is natural that Hester is tempted to take Pearl into her confidence, and it is sad that, instead, she slams the door on her daughters curiosity. In so doing, Hester finds it necessary to lie about the reason for her scarlet letter. As Hawthorne points out, this is the first time in seven years that she has been false to the symbol she wears.
Chapter 16 Notes Chapter 16 -- Summary While in the forest, Pearl suggests that the sunshine is running from Hester because of the letter she wears. Hester tells Pearl that the Black Man of the forest put the mark on Hester.
Chapter 16 -- Analysis The chilly gloom of the forest almost perfectly reflects Hesters state of mind. The narrow footpath through the dense forest is suggestive of the path which Hester has been forced to follow for the past seven years. Hester sees the forest itself as the
moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. Chapter 16 -- Analysis The obvious significance of the sunshine fleeing from Hester is complicated by the irony of the ever-vivacious Pearls appearing to absorb the sunshine. The story of the Black Man and his mark is described as common superstition; yet for Hester, it has a special and personal meaning. The brook is suggestive of Pearl inasmuch as
the current of her life gushed from a wellspring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom. Chapter 16 -- Analysis The difference between the song of the brook and the song of the girl is also symbolic. Unlike the brook and Hester, Pearl has not known sorrow which leads to melancholy.
Chapter 17 Notes Chapter 17 -- Summary Neither Dimmesdale nor Hester have found peace. Dimmesdale and Hester have both worked to atone for their sins; however, D suffers more
because his sin is concealed. Hester tells Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her husband and that he is an enemy to D. D forgives Hester for not telling him earlier. D says Chillingworths sin is greater than their sin. Hester and D vow to leave Boston together. Chapter 17 -- Analysis This chapter is key to the development of
the love story. After seven years, Hester and Dimmesdale are able to be alone to talk. Hester realizes that she must be a source of strength for D. Dimmesdale is seen as a man (rather than just a minister) whose passions are not always under perfect control. Ds cry of despair and appeal for help from Hester tend to humanize him and make him a more believable character.
Chapter 18 Notes Chapter 18 -- Summary Hester is a woman of independent mind and strong passions, who has never been a Puritan and who for seven years has not even been a member of society. Hesters strength and assurance convince Dimmesdale that they can start a new life
together. Feeling a surge of joy, Hester removes her letter and cap. As her rich, dark hair falls about her shoulders, Hester youth, passion and beauty seem to return. The sunshine breaks through the forest. Chapter 18 -- Summary Dimmesdale is afraid that Pearl may not like him. Hester is sure that having a
father will help to straighten out Pearl. Pearl seems so wild in the village; however, in the forest she is in her proper element. The forest, as though recognizing her nature, takes her in as one of its own. The animals do not run from Pearl and the wild flowers seem pleased when she gathers them to decorate her hair and dress. Chapter 18 -- Analysis In
the forest, natures principles operate rather than the laws of man. Hester and Dimmesdale have given in to natural impulses, and Nature symbolically indicates its approval in a sudden burst of sunshine. Mistakenly thinking that he can change his entire nature and turn his back on the past, the minister becomes exuberant at the thought of escaping with Hester.
Chapter 18 -- Analysis The obvious symbolism of the forests accepting Pearl is that she was born of a natural, rather than a socially-sanctioned, union. With all three of the family group now molding their conduct to the laws of nature (rather than the laws of man) it almost appears they can find happiness.
The discouraging omens are that D fears that Pearl may not accept him and the slowness in which Pearl approaches him. Chapter 19 Notes Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis Dimmesdale admitted fear that someone might
have noticed the resemblance Pearl had to her father. Upon seeing her mother without the letter, Pearl goes into a fit of rage. In Chapter 2, Hester was tempted to hold Pearl up so as to cover the letter but realized that one
token of shame would poorly serve to hide another. Here the living symbol (although she did so unknowingly) of Hesters sin actually forces her to accept again the cloth token (letter.) Pearl kisses her mother but washes away Dimmesdales kiss because he has not publically acknowledged his part. Chapter 20 Notes
Chapter 20 Summary Hester is to secretly book passage for two adults and one child on a Bristolbound ship. They are leaving for Europe in four days one day after Dimmesdale is to preach the Election Sermon. D is so happy that he seems physically stronger. Back in town, D encounters irrational temptations. He wonders whether he has really sold his soul to the devil.
D burns his old sermon and writes a new one. Chapter 20 Analysis In the change in Dimmesdale, and in his series of temptations toward some wild and wicked action, Hawthorne shows the deep subconscious effects of Dimmesdales conscious commitment to sin. Until his agreement with Hester, Ds strong Puritan conscious had struggled constantly with his weak will. But now, he has made the deliberate choice for the first time to do what he
wants (although it be a sin). Ds subconscious tries to make his guilt known. Hawthorne had tremendous psychological insight. Chapter 21 Notes Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis Hester
tells Pearl that the minister will be a the market place but that they must not greet each other. Hester learns that Chillingworth has planned to take Dimmesdale on the ship to Europe. Escaping Chillingworth will not be an easy task for Hester, Pearl, and D. Puritans were forbidden to act as freely as the sailors
Chapter 22 Notes Chapter 22 -- Summary & Analysis As he passes, Dimmesdale fails to look at Hester. It upsets and depresses Hester that D ignored her in passing. Dimmesdales strength is only temporary. The strings of tension are drawn tighter as
Hawthorne brings in each of the major characters. The point of crisis has arrived, and the problem is entirely Dimmesdales. Chapter 23 Notes Chapter 23 -- Summary & Analysis Dimmesdale inspires the crowd with his speech.
Standing with Hester and Pearl, Dimmesdale tells Hester that he is dying and must acknowledge his shame he turns to the crowd and discloses his guilt. As D dies, Chillingworth cries out (because D is escaping his grasp). D asks God to forgive Chillingworth, asks for a kiss from Pearl (which he receives), and tells Hester farewell. Chapter 23 -- Summary &
Analysis Dimmesdale symbolically rejects the help of Reverend Wilson (representing the church) and Governor Bellingham (representing the state). He turns only to Hester for support in a moment of crisis even she cannot help him at this point. He must expose the letter on his chest. When the climactic action drains D of his
strength and he collapses, it is again Hester on whom he leans. But she cannot assure him that his public act of repentance was better than their plan to escape from Boston. Chapter 23 -- Summary & Analysis Ds recognition of Pearl takes place in the form of a highly symbolic kiss. It
symbolizes Pearls acceptance and forgiveness of him. Also, it converts her from a cold, unreal, imp-like creature into a human being, one who weeps human tears for the first time in the book. Pearl becomes a person --- A spell was broken. D has made his place with God, but unlike Hester, he is too much the Puritan to be optimistic about the future. Chapter 24 Notes
Chapter 24 -- Summary & Analysis Some people in the market place say the mark on Dimmesdale was the result of Chillingworths magic drugs --- while others say it was the result of a suffering spirit, the result of Ds own hand, or that there was no mark at all.
Though he finds Chillingworths sin the most grievous in the book, Hawthorne is not Puritan enough to view the man coldly and vindictively. Chapter 24 -- Summary & Analysis Hawthorne gives strong hints that Pearl lived on in happiness and wealth, married well,
had a child, and remained an affectionate and dutiful daughter to Hester. While Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth were all involved in the tragedy through their own sins, Pearl was a helpless victim. The end of the novel focuses on Hester. After inheriting property (incredible wealth) from Chillingworth, Hester went to Europe with Pearl. After a number of years Hester returned to her cottage in Boston. Chapter 24 -- Summary &
Analysis Although Hester had done her penitence (and not the sternest Puritan would have forced Hester to wear the letter again), she put it on voluntarily and wore it the rest of her life. Hester gained a kind of wisdom through her suffering. After many years, Hester died and was buried in the cemetery near Dimmesdale. One tombstone served both graves and read On a black background,
the scarlet letter A. References http://www.shakespeare.org/ photolibrary/2002_images_media/ scarlet_media/index.htm
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