The Scarlet Letter

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:

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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:

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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:

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"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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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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:
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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:

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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:

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"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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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
Puritanism Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Hester exits the prison holding a three month-old infant. The prison guard puts a hand on... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism 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
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Hester is tall, with a head of dark glossy hair, and a beautiful face with deeply... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
As the crowd stares at Hester, the crowd focuses on the scarlet letter, which transfixes everyone. The letter sets Hester apart,... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
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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Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
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)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism 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... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
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!" (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity 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... (full context)
Chapter 4
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
When Hester and Pearl return to prison, Pearl cries uncontrollably. The prison guards allow a doctor in... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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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Nature Theme Icon
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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Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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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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The Occult Theme Icon
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
Sin Theme Icon
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The Occult Theme Icon
...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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The Occult Theme Icon
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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Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
The Occult Theme Icon
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)
Sin Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
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
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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)
Sin Theme Icon
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The Occult Theme Icon
Hester and Pearl, returning from the deathbed of the colony's first governor, do spot Dimmesdale, and... (full context)
Chapter 13
Sin Theme Icon
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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)
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
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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The Occult Theme Icon
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
Sin Theme Icon
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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)