The Scarlet Letter

Introduction-Chapter 1

Introduction: The first forty-four pages written by the author tell about his life working at the Custom House in Salem Massachusetts. During his time of employment there, he discovers some records in the attic and begins to piece together the story of Hester Prynne, an adulterous man in Puritan Salem. The Scarlet Letter is his account of the story with as many facts as he, the author, was able to gather from the documents he found. Chapter 1: Hawthorn’s first chapter is short, detailing the set up of colonial Salem. He talks of the town and how essential prisons and cemeteries are in the organization. Next to the steps of the Salem prison is a rosebush that has survived centuries and Hawthorn says this bush gives comfort with it’s beauty to the people who enter and leave the establishment.

Chapter 2: A town meeting is taking place and the people of the town, mainly the women, are gathered for the release of the adulteress, Hester Prynne. She steps out of the prison with the town beadle leading her with his hand on her shoulder. Hawthorn describes her as beautiful with a very proud stature that does not cower to the crowd of disdain that surrounds her. On her chest she bears the scarlet letter ‘A’ that is surrounded by shining gold thread upon a gown that scandalizes the women of the town.

Clutched close to her breast is the child that was produced by her adultery and the apparent reason she was not more harshly punished for her crime. She stood there under public scrutiny, not with a look of shame but almost bewilderment that her life had panned out as it had.

Chapter 3: Mistress Prynne is placed upon the pillory for three hours so all can see her shame. As she is standing there with her babe, she notices a new man in town along with an Indian. From the moment she sees him, she cannot take her eyes from him. An angry look quickly flashes across the man’s face at the sight of her and he inquires to the town person next to him why the woman is made to stand upon the pillory. Both the man and the readers are informed that Mistress Prynne was married to a man who has not yet returned from the Netherlands where they sailed from to New England.

Because she was so long away from her husband, it is obvious that he was not the father of her child. The man asked of her sentence, and of the man who did father the child and the town’s person told him that the father is not known. The Governor of the town who is standing on a higher platform then appeals to the Reverend Dimmesdale to extract the name of father from Mistress Prynne. After an emotional plea to Mistress Prynne, she still refuses to state the name of the father of her child, and states that her child has only a heavenly father.

Chapter 4: When Mistress Prynne was returned to the prison, she was in such mental disarray that the jailer, Master Brackett, decided to call in the physician. Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s real husband, introduces himself as the physician for Mistress Prynne and as soon as he enters the room, she goes perfectly still. Mr. Chillingsworth was the same man who she saw when she was on the pillory. He began to examine the baby and Hester expresses her concern that he will hurt the child as revenge on her.

They talk about their failed marriage, and how there was never love between them, and Roger tells her not to reveal to anyone who he really was. After giving her a draught to calm her, he asks her who the father of the child was. Again, as she did when asked by the Reverend, she refuses to give the name of the father. At her refusal, he tells her that he will find out who the man is and that she not breathe a word of his identity to anyone.

Chapter 5: Hester was released from prison and free to go wherever she wished. Instead of fleeing the town she moved to a little cottage outside of it, and supported herself with her needlework. She sewed for many different people of the town but kept herself in plain clothing, save the letter upon her bosom. She took all of the passion of her life and used it to ply her needle. Much of her work she donated to the poor as penance for her guilt. Although they all coveted her services, she was still an outcast looked upon with malice and her sin burned deep in her soul.

Chapter 6: Hester named her child Pearl because she was her treasure in life. Pearl was beautiful and intelligent, and had an air of a nymph about her. Even as a baby, the child was fascinated by the scarlet letter Hester wore upon her breast. This was a constant reminder for Hester of her sin. Pearl was a happy laughing child who had a fiery passion and temper that made Hester and others wonder if she was a demon with her black eyes. Everywhere Hester went Pearl went also. They had only each other. Hester attempted to raise her daughter with Puritan values but could not discipline her and Pearl held the strings on whether or not she did what she was told. Chapter 7: Hester and Pearl went to the Governor Bellingham’s house to deliver a pair of gloves she had embroidered for him. More than the delivery, Hester was there to plead to be able to keep Pearl. The people of the town thought that because of her sin, Hester was unfit to raise her child. When she arrived to the house, the governor was with other gentleman in the garden and they waited for a chance to speak with him. As they were waiting, Pearl was examining a shining suit of armor and saw Hester in it. She was delighted by the sight, and Hester’s image was lost behind the large shiny red letter that was magnified by the polished armor.

Chapter 8: The Governor, the pastor John Wilson, Reverend Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth exited the garden to find their path blocked by the nymph Pearl. Struck by the beauty of the scarlet clad child they ask her to whom she belongs. She answers that she is Pearl, and her mother’s child. As they enter the hall, they see Mistress Prynne and are happy that she has come so they can discuss what to do with Pearl. Testing to see whether the child has been properly instructed so far, the dotting John Winston asks young Pearl who made her. Pearl, though she knew the correct answer was the Heavenly Father answered that she had been plucked by her mother from the rose bush by the prison door.

The gentlemen were appalled by the child’s answer and decided that Hester should not raise her further. Hester was angry with this and pleaded Reverend Dimmesdale who knew she was capable of guiding the child spiritually to let her keep Pearl. She argued that God gave her Pearl, and that they could not take away the only joy that God gave her. After discussing it further among themselves, with the Reverend giving an impassioned plea for Hester, they decided to let her keep Pearl. Hester was thankful, and she and Pearl left for home. Mr. Chillingworth offered to figure out the identity of the father of the child, but his offer was refused. As she leaves, Hester realizes that she would have sold her soul to the devil if it meant she could keep her child.

Chapter 9: Since his first appearance in town, the people looked on Roger Chillingworth as a blessing. They were thankful that such a learned physician was given to them. As time went on, Mr. Chillingworth and the Reverend Dimmesdale became very close. Though he was young, the Reverend was growing sicker and sicker by the day and the people of the town implored him to let the physician examine him. He refused but continued to become closer and closer to the old man. After a while they even began living together in the home of a respected matron of the town. As time passed, the people began to look at Mr. Chillingworth differently however. Instead of seeing a man sent from God to help them, they saw in his old disfigured form, a servant of Satan that was sent to haunt the Reverend.

Chapter 10: Mr. Chillingworth watched the Reverend searching him for the secret sin of his soul. Searching for Hester’s lover became the secret purpose of his life and it clouded his head and heart. Slowly he was trying to get the Reverend to confess to the deed, and one afternoon began a discussion with him about unconfessed sin and how it eats away at the soul. While they are talking, they see Hester and Pearl in the cemetery. They look up at the men in the window and they wonder if the mischevious nymph like, Pearl, is true evil. After the woman and the child leave the cemetery, the men continue with their conversation.

Mr. Chillingworth accuses the Reverend that he cannot cure him until he knows the pain upon his soul because that sin is part of his bodily ailment. In a moment of passion, the Reverend blows up at him telling him that he will reveal nothing to the earthly man and leaves the room. This display of passion makes Mr. Chillingworth exceptionally pleased because it brings him closer to finding out that his suspicions of Hester and the Reverend are true.

Chapter 11: As the days went by the Reverend Dimmesdale continued to be haunted more and more by the sin upon his soul. He would look upon his companion the physician with disgust and feel as if the black part of his heart was spilling over into the rest of his life. The people of the town began to worship him more, saying he was a wonderful and saintly young preacher. As they looked up to him with greater fervor, he began to hate himself more. Many a time he stood on his pulpit aching to tell them of his sin, release it from his heart. However, all he could manage to say was that he was a terrible sinner, which only inspired his congregation more because they saw him as virtually flawless. He fasted, prayed, and kept vigils in order to purge himself, but the sin upon his soul haunted him without end.


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