The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne is an author who was alive during the 1800’s. He had an interest in the Puritans: a religious group who were goody goody and didn’t do anything that was bad. In Puritan society they had weird rules. Your personal life could be made public. Things you did in your personal life (like cheat on your spouse) could be considered crimes and you could be punished for them. Hmmm....although this book was written long ago, do you see the connections it has to modern times? (hint: A US president and an intern...for a modern day version of that story....check out the STAR REPORT) Anyway, this book takes place in 1620, in the town of Boston, Massachusetts. This book is one of those books where the author has more description than plot. Yeah...how exciting. There’s a movie with Demi Moore, but she sucks and the movie sucks.
Hester Prynne: Hester is the main character in the book. She is this chick who cheats on her husband and gets punished by the town for it. She is a pretty cool and confident in herself.
Arthur Dimmesdale: Arthur is a priest in the town. He’s a typical spineless man. He has sex with Hester, which is VERY bad, because Hester is a married and Arthur is a priest. He feels really guilty because he is a priest and he had dirty sex with a married woman, and God doesn’t like when priests have dirty sex, especially with married woman...it breaks one of the Ten Commandmants.... and God made those up. In the end Arthur tells everyone in the town that he had dirty sex.
Roger Chillingworth: Roger is Hester’s husband. He is a really smart guy, who is a little bit of a prick. He has her punished because she cheats on him.
Pearl: Pearl is Hester’s daughter. She is a wild child, always running around.
Mistress Hibbins: She is the Governor’s sister. She also says that she is a witch (like a flying broom/magical witch)
The story takes place in a small Puritan village. In the beginning there is a group of people at the town jail. Hester Prynne has been convicted for the crime of cheating on her husband. Her punishment is to stand on some platform for 3 hours in front of everyone (public humiliation). When Hester shows up, she has her daughter Pearl with her and Hester is wearing a Scarlet "A" on her clothes (Hence the title of the book). The "A" stands for Adulteress. The judges of the town ask her who was the guy she had sex with but she won’t tell them.
Then Hester’s husband arrives in town. He sent Hester ahead to America, while he stayed in Europe. So she’s been living in Boston by herself for two years. So, her husband sees what is going on, and doesn’t want people to know he is Hester’s husband. So he makes up a fake identity. He tells people he is Roger Chillingworth, a medical doctor. His big plan is to find out who the guy is that had sex with Hester.
Then Chillingworth visits Hester in jail. She agrees to keep his fake identity a secret. She agrees because she’s scared of her husband. Some years pass, and Hester gets out of jail. She moves outside of the town and becomes a seamstress. She wants to live a normal life but the townspeople still make fun of her and treat her like a whore.
Then the Governor of the town wants to take Hester’s child (Pearl) away from her. Hester goes to the Governor’s house to try and stop him. Arthur Dimmesdale (the priest who shagged Hester) stands up for her. Meanwhile, Roger Chillingworth is becoming a hotshot doctor in the town. He suspects Dimmesdale is the one who banged his wife, so he makes friends with him to get the truth. After Chillingworth finds out the truth he torments Dimmesdale about what he did and makes him feel guilty. Dimmesdale feels awful about what he did. He becomes sick at this point too.
Hester finds out about these sick mindgames. She meets Dimmesdale in the forest to tell him that Roger Chillingworth is really her husband!! Then Hester and Dimmesdale plan to leave the country and go together to England. Then Dimmesdale goes nuts and snaps and confesses to the whole town that he banged Hester Prynne. Then he dies. Then at the end of the story there’s an update of what happens to everyone: Hester moves to Europe, Pearl grows up and marries some rich dude, then Hester goes back to Boston and dies.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
- We see that the story is set in Boston in 1642.
- We find out that some crime has been committed.
- The first chapter is just a description of the prison.
- Hester is standing on a platform in front of the general public
- She has been punished for screwing around. She is carrying her daughter Pearl in her arms. She is also wearing a scarlet "A" in her chest.
- She’s on the platform as part of her punishment (to be publicly embarrassed)
- She stands on the platform and does not look embarrassed. She looks mad and just stares back at the crowd.
- The crowd is mad at Hester and treats her like some big criminal, even though all she did was have sex with some dude.
- We learn that her husband is back in Europe. He sent her to America 2 years ago and he plans to catch up with her later.
- Hester’s husband comes to Boston, and sees that she is being punished for committing adultery.
- They see each other but He tells her to be quiet and not tell anyone he is in town.
- Her husband has a plan to create a fake identity, and find out which man Hester was screwing.
- He tells everyone his name is Roger Chillingworth, a doctor who was recently doing some work with the Indians (American Indians)
- Meanwhile, Hester is on the platform and people ask her to tell everyone who her lover is. She does not
- They ask Dimmesdale, the priest to talk to her and get the secret out.
- Because all these people are there, he asks her to reveal her boyfriend’s name (Even though Dimmesdale IS her secret boyfriend)
- Hester ain’t talking.
- The prison requests a doctor for Hester. So they get Roger Chillingworth (Hester’s husband in disguise)
- Hester and her husband talk. She’s scared because she thinks he’s gonna kill her for cheating on him.
- He tells her his only plan is revenge on her lover.
- He tells her to not tell anybody about his disguise and she agrees because she’s tired and she’s scared.
- Because Hester committed the crime of adultery, she gets 2 punishments. The public embarrassment thing when she stood on the platform, and the Scarlet Letter (A) she must wear for the rest of her life.
- Years go by, and Hester is released from jail. She decides to stay in Boston because her lover (Dimmesdale) is in Boston.
- While she is out she becomes a seamstress and does a lot of charity work for poor people
- For the first time in the book, we see Pearl (Hester’s daughter)
- Pearl does not listen and is a wild little girl
- Pearl has a hard time because people think of her as the daughter of a criminal (So kids tease her etc)
- This chapter is basically a description of Pearl. Nothing exciting really happens.
- First part of this chapter describers the Governor of Boston’s mansion. It is an old mansion that is very elegant.
- Hester goes to the Governor’s house (mansion) because she found out that people want to take Pearl away from her because Hester is an "unfit mother" (according to the Puritan townspeople)
- Hester is still at the Governor’s mansion. The judges of the town ask Pearl some questions about religion and Pearl cannot answer them.
- So they think Hester is a bad mother because her daughter doesn’t know anything about religion.
- They decide to take Pearl away from Hester because Hester is a bad mother and a dirty whore.
- Hester refuses to give up her daughter. She asks Dimmesdale to help her.
- She kind of hints to him that if he doesn’t help her out, she will tell everyone that he is the man she’s been screwing.
- Dimmesdale convinces all the guys that she should keep her daughter. So, Hester gets to keep her daughter
- Then she talks with Mistress Hibbins, a suspected witch.
- Hibbins asks Hester if she wants to take part in some witch ceremony but Hester says no.
- This chapter basically describes Roger Chillingworth.
- He has become a hotshot doctor in the town. He is a good doctor and everyone likes him
- Then he does some medical work for Dimmesdale.
- Dimmesdale becomes sick and Roger becomes his doctor.
- Roger’s plan is to get in good with Dimmesdale so they can become good friends.
- Then when they’re friends, Roger hopes Dimmesdale will admit to him that he slept with Hester
- We see that Roger is kind of a sly, evil prick. He is pretending to be someone who he is not, just to do evil.
- Dimmesdale is still sick and Roger moves in with him to take care of him (cause he’s pretending to be a doctor remember?)
- Years pass, and the 2 guys become good buddies.
- Roger tries to get Dimmesdale to admit he is Hester’s lover.
- He doesn’t come right out and ask him he uses subtle ways, like talking about "confession" and "hidden sins" and stuff like that.
- One night Roger finds out that Dimmesdale wears an "A" on his chest too (a cloth "A" hidden under clothes).
- Now Roger KNOWS Dimmesdale is Hester’s secret lover.
- Dimmesdale becomes emotionally worse because he is torn by the fact that he had sex with a woman, even though he is a Priest.
- God hates it when priests have hot sex, especially if the woman is married.
- He also gets sicker, and thinner.
- He feels so guilty for what he has done. He punishes himself by whipping himself or fasting until he passes out.
- Dimmesdale still feels guilty. At night he goes to the platform where Hester was punished and stands there. He wants to confess, but he doesn’t.
- Some people see him on the platform. He almost confesses to them but then makes up some reason why he is standing on the platform.
- Hester shows up and gets on the platform with Dimmesdale.
- Pearl asks Dimmesdale if he and her mommy are getting married. Dimmesdale says no. How awkward.
- Turns out that Hester and Pearl were just images that Dimmesdale hallucinated while on the platform.
- This chapter describes Hester since she got out of jail
- Hester is a good girl now, and follows all the Puritan rules.
- She does good stuff like charity work and works with the sick.
- She had a lot of ideas about the town and life, but she never speaks her mind because she doesn’t want to stir up any trouble.
- Hester feels bad because Dimmesdale is being eaten alive by his own guilt because of Roger and his mind games.
- She regrets making that promise to Roger about keeping his true identity a secret.
- She realizes that her husband, who used to be decent, has turned into this evil guy who is obsessed with punishing Dimmesdale.
- She decides to go back on her promise and tell Dimmesdale that Roger is really her husband.
- Roger makes no apologies for his behavior towards Dimmesdale. (He drove the man insane basically)
- Hester admits that she hates her husband.
- Pearl finally asks her mom what the scarlet letter means. Hester lies and says it is some kind of pretty decoration.
- Pearl doesn’t believe her and keeps asking her
- Hester doesn’t tell her.
- Hester decides to find Dimmesdale and tell him Roger’s true identity.
- Dimmesdale is on a trip to some mission, so Hester decides to wait for him in the forest on his way home.
- Then there is a big description of the forest and what it means to everyone. To Pearl, the forest is a cool place. To the Puritan people the forest represents evil.
- Pearl keeps asking her mom about the scarlet letter and her mom doesn’t tell her the truth.
- Finally Hester gives her an answer that is sorta the truth.
- Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest. This is the first time they’ve been together privately in a LONG LONG time. (7 years)
- They have small talk then move on to real conversation.
- Hester tells Dimmesdale about Roger and his plan.
- Dimmesdale gets mad at Hester for letting Roger play those mind games on him
- Dimmesdale calms down. He doesn’t know what to do now that he knows that his live-in doctor and friend is his enemy
- Hester gives some dramatic speech about how Dimmesdale shouldn’t let this ruin his life.
- She tells him to move to another place. He tells her he can’t go alone, so she offers to go with him (because they’re in LOVE)
- Dimmesdale decides to go and is happy that Hester is going with him.
- Dimmesdale decides to escape his life of sin, instead of sticking around for his responsibilities.
- In a symbolic gesture, Hester throws her scarlet letter in the river.
- They discover one problem in their big plan to move somewhere. What will they do with Pearl?
- Hester tells Dimmesdale he should talk to Pearl because Pearl is his daughter.
- Instead of being happy that he’s a daddy, Dimmesdale is worried people might find out he had sex because he has a daughter (yeah, what a great father figure here…we told you he was a spineless man)
- Dimmesdale is not the best guy for a father. He doesn't like kids
- Hester tells Pearl to talk to Dimmesdale but Pearl refuses.
- Then Pearl sees that her mom ripped off the scarlet letter.
- Pearl gets mad, so Hester goes to retrieve the letter.
- Hester and Dimmesdale continue to talk about their big plan.
- Dimmesdale goes home and he is really happy because he is going away with his true love, Hester.
- Dimmesdale meets Mistress Hibbins (witch) on the way home.
- The book describes a lot of stuff that basically boils down to this: Dimmesdale has sold his soul to the devil and is now bad.
- Dimmesdale returns home and does not tell Roger that he knows his true identity
- The beginning of this chapter describes a party the town is having to celebrate the newly elected officials in the government. (New judges)
- Hester goes to the big party
- Hester has plans to leave Boston that day. Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale are heading to England.
- She finds out that Roger will be on the same boat as them. Uh-oh…looks like trouble.
- They are still at the parade.
- Mistress Hibbins talks to Hester and tells her that she knows about Hester and Dimmesdale and their meeting in the forest.
- Hester then goes to hear Dimmesdale’s sermon. He is giving one on election day.
- Dimmesdale’s sermon kicks ass. Everyone thinks it’s a great speech.
- All of a sudden, during his speech, Dimmesdale yells for Hester and Pearl. He asks them to come up next to him.
- Roger tries to stop Dimmesdale from confessing his affair in public. Roger doesn’t want him to do it because then he can’t make Dimmesdale feel guilty about his secret anymore.
- Dimmesdale (who is REALLY sick and weak at this point) gets Hester up with him, and confesses his affair. He gives this long powerful speech about it.
- He rips off some clothes and shows everyone the "A" he has on his chest.
- Then Dimmesdale collapses and dies right there.
- This just tells what happened to everyone after these events
- Dimmesdale dies after his speech
- Roger dies shortly after
- When Roger dies, everything in his will is left for Pearl. This is weird because Pearl is the daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale.
- Pearl grows up and goes to Europe. She meets some rich dude and marries him.
- Hester, who went to Europe, goes back to Boston. For some reason she puts the scarlet letter back on.
- Hester dies and is buried next to Dimmesdale. An "A" is engraved on her tombstone.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- There is a big struggle between right and wrong in this book. Hester has a passionate affair with a man she loves. But, is she wrong?
- She is in love with him and is following her heart, BUT, it is against the Puritan law to commit adultery.
- So is she wrong for following her true passion or is the law wrong for confining human nature?
- Hawthorne almost describes sin as a good thing. He wrote the book like people were changed because of sin and punishment. After Hester got caught and was an outcast, she became a stronger woman.
- There is a lot of commentary about how stupid the Puritan society is. There are so many rules and everything fun is basically against the law.
- But Hawthorne (author) knows not EVERYONE can be a saint so he knows there is a lot of hypocrisy going on in that society.
- The actual Scarlet Letter has A LOT of symbolism. Since Hester wears it, people shun her.
- This letter is just like the kind of things we show people (not letter, but attitudes, feelings, etc) that reflect our past and make people judge us in a certain light. Y’know?