The Scarlet Letter

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Hester Prynne Character Analysis

The protagonist of the novel, Hester is married to Roger Chillingworth and has an affair with Arthur Dimmesdale. The affair produces a daughter, Pearl. Hester plays many roles in The Scarlet Letter: devoted mother, abandoned lover, estranged wife, religious dissenter, feminist, and outcast, to name just a few. Perhaps her most important role is that of an iconoclast, one who opposes established conventions. Hester is not just a rebel, she's a glorified rebel, and Hawthorne uses her to criticize the Puritan's strict society. He portrays Hester fondly, as a woman of strength, independence, and kindness, who stands up to the judgments and constraints of her society. Though society tries to demean and disgrace her, Hawthorne emphasizes that Hester never looked more attractive as when she first emerged from prison wearing the scarlet letter.

Hester Prynne Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

The The Scarlet Letter quotes below are all either spoken by Hester Prynne or refer to Hester Prynne. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sin Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Scarlet Letter published in 2015.
Chapter 2 Quotes
On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it ... was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne
Related Symbols: Red and Black, The Scarlet Letter
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

The second chapter, "The Market-Place," first details a public scene: men and women of the colony are crowding around and conversing outside of the prison-house, discussing Hester Prynne. Once the door to the prison opens "from within," Hester stands at the entrance, on display for the crowd. She holds an infant conceived out of wedlock in her arms, and the breast of her gown displays an elaborately embroidered letter "A." This letter is meant to serve as the symbol of her punishment, a reminder that she failed to follow the common rules of the Puritan colony (the "A" stands for Adultery), yet the "A" itself also becomes another flagrant transgression of the colony's "sumptuary regulations," which limit any luxury or boldness in items such as clothes. Through this letter's extraordinary artistry, the "A" becomes a way for Hester to claim and express her punishment and social isolation in her own manner. 

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Stretching for the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator explicitly informs us that the town-beadle "prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law," so we can view his "official staff" as a symbol of the colony's religious and social regulations. This brief interaction pins down the fundamental background of Hester's character trajectory: her social circumstance constrains and controls her actions (as it might affect any other colonist's actions), until Hester decides to no longer live under such limitations, and she steps away "as if by her own free will." Hester is continually engaged in this process; she vacillates between following and not following various conventions. She will, for instance, feel unacceptable love for the father of her illegitimate child in one moment, and in the next, refuse to publicly acknowledge his presence in her life, fulfilling her expected social role as the isolated woman who has sinned.  

Chapter 3 Quotes
When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester observes the townspeople gathered around her, she notices an unusual figure: a man with "a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume." Apparel and appearances serve as important symbols throughout the novel, so this is our first indication that this new character is of special significance. Like Hester (who bears the scarlet letter on her garb), he does not quite belong in this New England, Puritan town. Yet this shared sense of separation does not seem to make this stranger treat Hester better than the townspeople treat her. This figure is menacing; the narrator associates him with snakes and darkness. And, as he and Hester look at each other, he does not come to her aid in any sense. He merely puts a finger on his lips, silently asking her to stay silent about his identity. 

"Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him--yea, compel him, as it were--to add hypocrisy to sin?"
Related Characters: Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker), Hester Prynne
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester stands on the scaffold, facing her judgment, Governor Bellingham urges the young clergyman Reverend Dimmesdale to speak to Hester in front of the assembled crowd, to command her to reveal, confess, and repent for her sins. Dimmesdale does indeed ask Hester to reveal the name of her child's father -- if she wishes to do so (if she "feelest it to be for thy soul's peace"). As he makes this request, Dimmesdale implies that the child's father would suffer if he stayed silent; remaining hidden would "add hypocrisy to sin," compounding one form of wrong with another. Yet he also suggests that if she decides to remain silent, then the man would have no choice -- he would be "compelled" to stay silent as well. (This is all deeply ironic because, as we later learn, Dimmesdale himself is the child's father.) In this Puritan atmosphere, wrong behavior necessitates public recognition and resolution. Yet Dimmesdale's brief speech here seems to somewhat deviate from strict Puritanism, and from the Governor's intention. He makes a passionate, fleeting request, before other speakers cry more harshly at Hester, and the older clergyman present lectures about sin and the scarlet letter for at least an hour.

Chapter 4 Quotes
As he spoke, he laid his long forefinger on the scarlet letter, which forwith seemed to scortch into Hester’s breast, as if it had been red-hot. He noticed her involuntary gesture, and smiled. “Live, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women—in the eyes of him thou didst call thy husband—in the eyes of yonder child! And, that thou mayst live, take off this draught.”
Related Characters: Roger Chillingworth (speaker), Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Red and Black
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

When Hester returns to the prison after this public scene, she is in a state of such agitation that the jailer brings in a man who seems to be a physician. This "physician" knows Hester, however; he is the man who held his finger to his lips, silently asking Hester to not reveal his identity. He gives Hester a medicinal drink ("draught") to ease her distress, but Hester doubts his motives, even questioning if he seeks to murder her for vengeance. His response is chilling; with "cold composure," he comments that Hester's life of shame would be a better form of revenge than death. He then lays his finger on her scarlet letter, instead of on his lips (as he did earlier). A supernatural, strange occurrence follows this man's description of Hester's "burning shame": Hester's breast burns where his finger touched her. This suggests that the strange man will almost personify evil in the novel, despite his familiarity with medicinal knowledge and healing. It is telling that he only reveals his identity as Hester's perhaps former husband (as "him thou didst call thy husband") after he reveals his nefarious nature. 

Chapter 5 Quotes
Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Hester's confinement in prison ends, she no longer has any future changes to which she can look forward. As she emerges from the prison, she must confront the rest of her life. Her community will always remember that she conceived a child out of wedlock. Educators -- parents, preachers, and teachers -- will use Hester as a "symbol" ("the figure, the body, the reality") of moral transgression, depraved desire, and female weakness. When Hester stays in this town, she will be "giving up her individuality." Yet, she will stay; there is a feeling of inevitability following her shame that the narrator captures through the future tense of these descriptions ("Thus the young and pure would be taught...).

Chapter 7 Quotes
Little Pearl—who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house—spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.

"Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! Look!"

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.

"Come along, Pearl!" said she, drawing her away, "Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 98-99
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester and Pearl walk in Governor Bellingham's mansion, their adventures proceed as expected; Pearl acts like an "imp," who refuses to behave properly out of strange delight with her surroundings. She also becomes preoccupied with the way that the decorations (in this case, the reflection in a convex mirror) in this site of Puritan authority visually and metaphorically exaggerate the scarlet letter on Hester's chest, as well as Pearl's own otherworldliness. In response to Pearl, Hester suggests that they go to the governor's garden, to see flowers "more beautiful" than flowers in the woods -- flowers which are superior to the ones Hester and Pearl can view from their dwelling at the margin of the town, close to the wilderness of the forest. Even when Hester and Pearl physically travel to the society of the town, their separation is apparent.

Chapter 8 Quotes
“Wilt thou go with us tonight? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.”
Related Characters: Mistress Hibbins (speaker), Hester Prynne
Related Symbols: Red and Black
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester and Pearl leave Governor Bellingham's mansion, the witch Mistress Hibbins briefly appears. She is the "bitter-tempered" sister of Governor Bellingham, one of the most authoritative and proper individuals in the colony; her appearance reminds us that authority and dissent are closely associated with each other. Here, they are two sides of the same coin. 

In this scene, Mistress Hibbins is also linked to Pearl; immediately before Hester departs, Dimmesdale comments that Pearl "hath witchcraft in her" and is similar to such a witch. Yet, this "little baggage," that so reminded Dimmesdale of a witch, is the reason that Hester refuses Mistress Hibbins' offer to go to the forest and serve the devil (the "Black Man"). Despite her character similarities to characters who engage in witchcraft, Pearl fosters virtuous behavior in her mother -- as Dimmesdale earlier suggested. This illustrates one of the many ways in which the novel plays with binaries such as good and evil. 

Chapter 12 Quotes
"Nay; not so, my little Pearl!" answered the minister; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which—with a strange joy, nevertheless—he now found himself. "Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother thee one other day, but not to-morrow!"
Related Characters: Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker), Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

On an "obscure night" in May, Dimmesdale stands vigil upon the platform where Hester faced public condemnation with the infant Pearl in her arms. His sanity seems questionable -- at one point in the night he shrieks aloud, startling townspeople including Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins, who appear at their window and lattice. At another point, Dimmesdale merely envisions himself speaking to the passerby Mr. Wilson, and this prospect shocks him, exacerbating his anxiety. Peal and Hester arrive when Dimmesdale laughs, quite strangely, and Pearl echoes his laughter with her own. Dimmesdale invites Hester and Pearl onto the scaffold, and as they stand with linked hands, Pearl asks Dimmesdale to repeat this gesture tomorrow at noon. Dimmesdale refuses; Pearl has reminded him of his constant fear that he will be publicly exposed for his sins, and this fear overpowers his pleasure (his "strange joy") at being (re)united with Hester and Pearl. For Dimmesdale, public life has more power than private, internal desires, and Puritan conformity is stronger than individual conscience.

Chapter 15 Quotes
"Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne bitterly, as she still gazed after him, "I hate the man!"

[…]

"Yes, I hate him!" repeated Hester, more bitterly than before. "He betrayed me! He has done me worse wrong than I did him!"
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
As Hester and Chillingworth converse on the beach, Chillingworth admits his malicious nature (which makes him like a "fiend") but refuses to forgive Dimmesdale. Once they part ways, Hester speaks to herself, commenting that she hates Chillingworth. She then remembers the time she spent with Chillingworth in England; she recalls their only "lukewarm" romance and interprets Chillingworth's attempts to capture her innocent love as his "fouler offence." To Hester, Chillingworth was the most evil when he strove to constrain her passions and tame her into his lover and wife. As the memories fade into forgetting, Hester more passionately repeats her declaration of hatred, even adding that Chillingworth acted worse to her than she ever did, even in her adultery. This passage does not only color Hester's adultery in a more sympathetic way; it also illustrates how Hester's moral judgments arise from natural impulses and passions, emphasizing a moral system that is an alternative to Puritanism. 
Chapter 16 Quotes
“'Mother,' said litter Pearl, 'the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom.... I am but a child. It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!' 'Nor ever will, my child, I hope,' said Hester. 'And why not, mother?' asked Pearl, stopping short, just at the beginning of her race. 'Will not it come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?'
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester seeks Dimmesdale in the wood, hoping to intercept him and inform him about Chillingworth's true nature, Pearl (naturally) accompanies her. On this day, Pearl is able to stand in the patches of sunlight that make their way onto the forest path, but these bursts of light disappear when Hester attempts to touch them. Pearl, as usual, interprets this phenomenon with uncanny metaphorical accuracy for such a young child; the sunlight, like a townsperson, "runs away and hides" from Hester because of her scarlet letter ("something on your bosom"). Yet we also see Pearl's childlike simplicity, as she assumes that every woman must have such a letter on her, thinking that it grows naturally. Pearl indirectly raises the tension of the novel when she so innocently draws attention to the reason why only Hester has a scarlet letter, referencing but not stating Hester's specific sin. 

Chapter 17 Quotes
The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience-stricken priest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"

"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it."
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

Hester succeeds in finding Dimmesdale in the forest, a site far enough removed from society to allow them to carry a frank conversation. They turn to their innermost thoughts, eventually; after moving through more mundane topics, Dimmesdale reveals the intensity of his guilt and Hester exposes Chillingworth's lust for revenge when she admits that she and Chillingworth were married. Dimmesdale claims that God's judgment is "too mighty" for him to face, but Hester urges Dimmesdale to seek God's mercy -- or, at least, she claims that God would show mercy if Dimmesdale had enough "strength" to ask for it. This scene reveals Dimmesdale's weakness of character, and Hester's strength; Hester must encourage him and lead him. Although Dimmesdale is the clergyman, the public leader, Hester is the individual strong enough to guide Dimmesdale, just as she is the only individual strong enough to face the condemnation of the public. 

"Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest track? Backwards to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes; but onward too! Deeper it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step! until, some few miles hence, the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man’s tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?"
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale faintly asks Hester to "Be .. strong for me" and "Advise me what to do," Hester gives an exhortation reminiscent of Dimmesdale's passionate sermons. She reminds him that the same path which leads back to the town stretches "onward too"; it goes "deeper ... into the wilderness" as well. Hester stresses that Dimmesdale is "free" in woods, in nature; Dimmesdale is not as fundamentally confined in his sin (and in Chillingworth's reaction to his sin) as he believes he is. Dimmesdale need not just be virtuous in life—he also could be "happy," if he left his position in society behind him and journeyed to more natural, less judgmental places. Here, Hester is not merely rousing Dimmesdale to leave the town; she is advocating that he could leave his Puritanism and his sin behind as well. Such a journey would take Dimmesdale out of the social infrastructure which has framed the novel. 

Chapter 18 Quotes
But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness.... The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Hester claims that she will join Dimmesdale as he flees from this Puritan town and his past life, Dimmesdale can only gape at her because of his intense emotions -- "hope" mixed with "fear" and "horror." It is difficult for Dimmesdale to fathom Hester's boldness, as he has only lived within his small society as a clergyman, while Hester has lived for seven years without society's approval (in this often-called "moral wilderness"), as an outcast who sinned. Hester's condemnation has indeed led to "shame, despair, solitude," but it also makes her a "strong" enough individual to envisage escaping her current social circumstance -- a prospect which Dimmesdale cannot so easily imagine, as a man caught within conformity.  

Chapter 19 Quotes
"Doth he love us?" said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mother's face. "Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?"

"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"

"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hester directly tells Pearl that Dimmesdale loves both of them, Pearl questions this sentiment, asking if he will prove his love by entering the town while holding their hands. Pearl echoes the question she asked on the scaffold (if Dimmesdale would stand there in the day's sunlight as well), and here the narrator characterizes and directly describes the "acute intelligence" that these probing queries reveal in Pearl. Again, Pearl is told that Dimmesdale will display this connection before the townspeople on another day ("in days to come"), as the final revelation is delayed even further, intensifying Dimmesdale's hypocrisy and the narrative's tension. Yet after the freeing moments in the woods, Hester can more clearly envision such a future with Dimmesdale -- comfortable times with a "home" and a "fireside." This suggests that the splendid moments she and Dimmesdale had in the forest together are dimmed but not eradicated. Their vision of escaping their town has proved quixotic and impossible, but Hester is more willing to ponder a possible future with Dimmesdale than she has ever been before. 

Chapter 22 Quotes
“Mother," said [Pearl], “was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?"
“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. “We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

During the inauguration ceremony for the new governor, Pearl sees Dimmesdale among the officials who parade across the market-place. Shortly, Dimmesdale will deliver the Election Speech; he is clearly categorized as a public figure, and he does not appear to even notice Hester and Pearl as he passes by them. This is apparent to the ever-observant Pearl, who questions her mother whether Dimmesdale is the "same minister" that she saw in the woods. Pearl thus introduces a powerful question about personal and social identity, a question which her mother rebukes. Hester suggests that we must separate events from "the forest" -- events of natural human passion, from incidents in "the market-place" -- incidents constrained within public arenas. Despite all of her individuality and strength, Hester does not here attempt to close the separation between the personal and the public. 

Chapter 23 Quotes
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale finally admits his specific sin in front of the townspeople, and reveals that he shares the burden of the scarlet letter with Hester, as the father her child, he asks Pearl for a kiss. Instead of refusing the individuals around herself, and acting according to her personal impulses like a wild creature, Pearl actually complies with Dimmesdale's request. She kisses his lips, and she suddenly appears to transform from supernatural to human. Pearl becomes a woman, wholly ceasing to be the chimerical, precocious child whose unnaturalness reminds Hester of her flawed conception and intimate association with sin. Once Pearl's human father is revealed, Pearl becomes human as well; Dimmesdale saves her as he saves himself. 

Chapter 24 Quotes
But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here, in New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed,—of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed it,—resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never afterwards did it quit her bosom. But ... the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 244-245
Explanation and Analysis:

After the narrator describes Pearl's uncertain fate, he more confidently relates that Hester stayed "here," the site of the story. The narrator has described Hester's future with an air of inevitability throughout the novel, and it continues here; it seems that Hester had no way to escape from the scarlet letter, as her association with it was too powerful. The meaning of the scarlet letter continued to mutate over time, however. In the novel it initially signified "adultery," serving as a symbol of shame, and then came to mean "able," serving as a symbol of Hester's abilities, but finally it became a sort of legend -- a garment which brought solemn respect, even reverence (perhaps a reference to it's final possible meaning, "angel"). Hester did not take off the letter again -- Dimmesdale was gone -- yet the letter changed, with Hester, over the ensuing many years.

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Hester Prynne Character Timeline in The Scarlet Letter

The timeline below shows where the character Hester Prynne appears in The Scarlet Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Puritanism Theme Icon
The crowd outside the prison grows restless waiting for Hester Prynne to appear. The faces in the crowd are grim, yet familiar, since Puritans gathered... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Some of the Puritan women waiting outside the prison say Hester deserved a harsher sentence. One states that Revered Dimmesdale, Hester's pastor, must be ashamed that... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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Hester exits the prison holding a three month-old infant. The prison guard puts a hand on... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
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On her chest Hester wears a scarlet letter "A," affixed with beautiful embroidery that strikes some women in the... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
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Puritanism Theme Icon
Hester is tall, with a head of dark glossy hair, and a beautiful face with deeply... (full context)
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As the crowd stares at Hester, the crowd focuses on the scarlet letter, which transfixes everyone. The letter sets Hester apart,... (full context)
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As part of her punishment, Hester must stand before the crowd on the scaffold for several hours. Her walk to the... (full context)
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Governor Bellingham, a judge, and other officials observe the "spectacle" of Hester's punishment on the scaffold. The crowd, aware of the presence of authority, remains serious and... (full context)
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Hester thinks about her past in order to endure her time on the scaffold. Lost in... (full context)
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Finally Hester's thoughts return to the present. She looks out at the menacing crowd assembled before her.... (full context)
Chapter 3
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Suddenly as Hester looks out into the crowd she recognizes Roger Chillingworth, her husband, standing beside an Indian... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity 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... (full context)
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... (full context)
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Chillingworth asks who fathered Hester's child. The man says that the child's father remains a mystery and suggests that Hester's... (full context)
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Chillingworth predicts that the man who fathered Hester's child will eventually be revealed and repeats the phrase, "he will be known!" (full context)
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Mr. Wilson, an elderly local reverend, addresses Hester and calls on her pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale, to question her about her sin. Dimmesdale demands... (full context)
Chapter 4
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When Hester and Pearl return to prison, Pearl cries uncontrollably. The prison guards allow a doctor in... (full context)
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Chillingworth forgives Hester for betraying him. He asks her to tell him the identity of the father, but... (full context)
Chapter 5
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About three years pass. Hester, now free from prison, decides not to leave Boston. She takes Pearl to live in... (full context)
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Hester supports herself as a seamstress. The same people who pay her for her work, including... (full context)
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Hester grows increasingly lonely. Pearl, her only companion, is a constant reminder of the source of... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The narrator describes Pearl as the human manifestation of Hester's sin: Pearl is filled with a sense of defiance and deviance, and does not fit... (full context)
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Like Hester, Pearl is painfully aware of her isolation. She has an innate sense that Hester's scarlet... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Rumors surface that the authorities are planning to take Pearl from Hester because they fear that Pearl is possessed and dangerous to Hester. And if Pearl isn't... (full context)
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Hester goes to visit Governor Bellingham to inquire about these rumors and to deliver a pair... (full context)
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At one point, Pearl points out Hester's distorted reflection in the breastplate of a suit of armor: Hester appears to be completely... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...her a demon-child because of her scarlet clothing, but stop when they realize that she's Hester's daughter and that Hester must be present. (full context)
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The Governor asks Hester how she can justify keeping Pearl. Hester says she'll teach Pearl what she's learned from... (full context)
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Hester begs Dimmesdale to defend her. Dimmesdale argues that Pearl was sent by God to serve... (full context)
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Dimmesdale's speech convinces the Governor not to take Pearl from Hester. On their way out of the Governor's residence, Hester and Pearl see Mistress Hibbins. She... (full context)
Chapter 10
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One day, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale notice Hester and Pearl in the cemetery outside Dimmesdale's home. Pearl is playing on the headstones and... (full context)
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Pearl throws one of the burrs she is carrying toward Dimmesdale. She tells Hester that they should leave since the Black Man has possessed Dimmesdale and will get them... (full context)
Chapter 12
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One night, Dimmesdale mounts the town scaffold where Hester and Pearl once stood to be shamed. He imagines the scene filled with townspeople. He... (full context)
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Hester and Pearl, returning from the deathbed of the colony's first governor, do spot Dimmesdale, and... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Seven years have now passed since Pearl's birth. Hester has become more accepted by the community, and the embroidered scarlet letter has evolved into... (full context)
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Nonetheless, Hester still lives on the outskirts of town, her hard life has stolen her beauty and... (full context)
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Hester decides that she must help Dimmesdale by confessing that Chillingworth was her husband, thereby revealing... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Hester decides to ask Chillingworth to stop tormenting Dimmesdale. When she and Pearl encounter him on... (full context)
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Hester notices that Chillingworth has changed. He's now a wretched, vengeful old man. Chillingworth also notes... (full context)
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Hester tells Chillingworth he holds Dimmesdale's life in his hands. Chillingworth says he saved Dimmesdale's life... (full context)
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Chillingworth admits that he's become a "fiend." He blames Hester for his downfall. Hester agrees, pleading with Chillingworth therefore not to blame and abuse Dimmesdale... (full context)
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Hester says she must tell Dimmesdale about Chillingworth. He responds that their fate, a "black flower,"... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...has arranged seaweed to form a letter "A" on her own chest. She pleads with Hester to tell her what the scarlet letter means, and asks if Hester wears it for... (full context)
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Hester lies and says she wears the letter because of its beautiful gold thread. Pearl, knowing... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Hester plans to intercept Dimmesdale along a forest path as he returns to Boston on his... (full context)
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As Hester waits for Dimmesdale, Pearl asks to hear the story of the Black Man, a nickname... (full context)
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Hester asks how Pearl heard this story and she responds that an old woman told her... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest and hold hands. Dimmesdale says life with a scarlet... (full context)
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Hester reveals to Dimmesdale that Chillingworth was her husband. Dimmesdale, furious, blames her for his suffering.... (full context)
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...says living under Chillingworth's control is worse than death, but he sees no way out. Hester tells him to consider a life beyond Boston, in the safety and anonymity of Europe.... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Dimmesdale decides to flee Boston with Hester. He calls her his "angel" and says he's been renewed. Hester flings away her scarlet... (full context)
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Dimmesdale and Hester discuss Pearl, whom Hester says she barely understands. Pearl, meanwhile, has been playing alone in... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...is a "living hieroglyphic." Yet Pearl refuses to come to her parents when they call. Hester attributes her reluctance to the absence of the scarlet letter on her bosom. Hester puts... (full context)
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Pearl asks if Dimmesdale will return with them hand in hand to town. Hester says he won't join them in public yet. Dimmesdale kisses Pearl. She runs to the... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Hester and Dimmesdale agree to flee with Pearl to Europe. As Hester makes plans for them... (full context)
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...no longer needs the help of his medications. Chillingworth suspects instead that Dimmesdale talked with Hester, but feigns relief that his remedies have finally helped restore Dimmesdale's health. (full context)
Chapter 21
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It's inauguration day for the new governor. Hester and Pearl await the procession of government officials, and stand near a bunch of Indians... (full context)
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...commander of the vessel bound for England. The commander leaves his side and walks by Hester. He recognizes her and says that Chillingworth will also be aboard the ship. Hester looks... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...ever before. Pearl barely recognizes him as the man who kissed her in the forest. Hester tells Pearl not to mention the forest in the town. When Hester and Dimmesdale see... (full context)
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Mistress Hibbins approaches Hester. She says she can always tell a servant of the Black Man, and that both... (full context)
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Some Indians standing in the gathered crowd think Hester's scarlet letter is a mark of distinction. (full context)
Chapter 23
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After his triumphant sermon, Dimmesdale sees Hester and Pearl in front of the scaffold. He asks them to approach him at the... (full context)
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On the scaffold, Dimmesdale turns to Hester and says: "Is this not better than what we dreamed of in the forest?" He... (full context)
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Hester tells Dimmesdale they will meet again in the afterlife. Though Dimmesdale is not so sure,... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Hester returned years later to her cabin in Boston. She lived there for many years before... (full context)