The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Suddenly as Hester looks out into the crowd she recognizes Roger Chillingworth, her husband, standing beside an Indian at the edge of the crowd. She clutches her baby in alarm. It cries out in protest.
The person who should most comfort Hester (her husband) makes her feel uneasy and alone.
Themes
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Chillingworth is "civilized and savage." He is small, intelligent looking, and somewhat deformed, with one shoulder higher than the other.
Civilized, savage, and deformed, Chillingworth contrasts with the nature.
Themes
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Chillingworth's face becomes horrified when he sees that the woman on the scaffold is Hester, his wife. Chillingworth and Hester's eyes lock. He quickly places his fingers to his lips to silence her.
Chillingworth silences Hester in order to protect his reputation. He ensures he isn't associated with Hester's sin.
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Chillingworth asks a man about Hester's identity and crime. The man is surprised Chillingworth hasn't heard about Hester's notorious sin. Chillingworth lies that he's been held captive by Indians. He asks the man to explain Hester's crime.
Chillingworth seems almost cold-blooded, lying about his past while watching his wife suffer on the scaffold just to protect his reputation.
Themes
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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The stranger tells Hester's history. She had been married to a scholar from England (Chillingworth), but had arrived in Massachusetts alone while he remained in Amsterdam. She lived alone in Boston for two years before falling into sin and scandal.
Hester's independence results in part from her living on her own for years. Chillingworth essentially abandoned her.
Themes
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Chillingworth asks who fathered Hester's child. The man says that the child's father remains a mystery and suggests that Hester's husband come from Europe to investigate the matter himself. The man also notes that Hester did not receive the full "extremity of righteous law," which would have punished her with death. Chillingworth says Hester's sentence makes more sense because now Hester will serve as a living "sermon against sin."
The man's suggestion is fulfilled: Chillingworth has arrived, aligned himself with the Puritans' perspective on Hester's crime, and speaks as if he has no connection to his own wife. The mention of "righteous law" emphasizes the Puritan fusion of religion and law.
Themes
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Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Chillingworth predicts that the man who fathered Hester's child will eventually be revealed and repeats the phrase, "he will be known!"
Chillingworth condemns lying to protect oneself, but he's doing it too!
Themes
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Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Mr. Wilson, an elderly local reverend, addresses Hester and calls on her pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale, to question her about her sin. Dimmesdale demands that she reveal the identity of her baby's father, but she says she will never reveal his name. Mr. Wilson then delivers a fiery sermon about sin, after which Hester returns to her prison cell.
Dimmesdale conforms to public expectation and demands that Hester divulge her lover's identity, but he lacks the courage to reveal that he's her lover. Like Chillingworth, he abandons her to protect himself.
Themes
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon