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The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne’s writing style and word usage can seem strange to the modern “ear”. The trick with Hawthorne is to try to understand the backbone of each sentence. Remember that in colonial times law and religion were inseparable.
Questions: Does Hawthorn approve of Puritans?
How does the scarlet “A” change in meaning throughout the novel?

Guided Reading Questions

Look for: Allusions, irony and symbols.
Chapters 1- 2:
1. Identify Hester Prynne and the person on the scaffold with her?
2. What is the setting?
3. What emblem does Hester have to wear? Why is she sentenced to wear it?
4. How do the people in the crowd speak of her?
5. What do iron and the rosebush symbolize?
6. What/who is beadle?
7. What is the most difficult thing for Hester as she stands before the crowd?

Chapters 3-4
1. Who is the man Hester recognizes in the crowd?
2. What does someone in the crowd say Hester is refusing to reveal?
3. Who does the governor say is responsible for Hester’s soul?
4. Why is someone called to into the jail to aid the baby?
5. What does this person (person summoned to help) vow to Hester?
6. Why does Hester fear him?

Chapters 5-7
1. When Hester is released, where does she go? Why doesn’t she run away to a different settlement?
2. What does she do to support herself?
3. What is the name of Hester’s child? Why?
4. How does Hester dress?
5. Describe Hester’s daughter: her physical appearance and her personality.
6. What does Hester and her daughter see in the breastplate of the armor? What is the exaggeration’s significance?

Chapters 8-10
1. Mr. Wilson asks Pearl, “Cants thou tell me, my child, who made thee?” What is Pearl’s response? Why does she say this?
2. What convinces the Governor to let Hester keep Pearl?
3. How does Roger Chillingworth become Dimmesdale’s medical advisor?
4. Who is the leech? Why is he called this in the title of the chapter?
5. Why does Rev. Dimmesdale rush from the room to end the conversation he has with Roger Chillingworth?

Chapters 11—13
1. What does Rev. Dimmesdale’s congregation thin of him? Why is this ironic?
2. Where does Rev. Dimmesdale go at midnight? Why?
3. What does Pearl ask Rev. Dimmesdale?
4. What “sign” does the meteor make in the sky?
5. Where have Mr. Wilson, Hester, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth been that night to all be walking by the scaffold at midnight?
6. What changes have come about in Hester in the seven years since Pearl’s birth? Why?

Chapters 14-17
1. What does Hester tell Roger Chillingworth when they meet on the peninsula?
2. Why do Hester and Pearl go to the forest?
3. What does Pearl answer when Hester asks her what she thinks the scarlet letter means?
4. When Rev. Dimmesdale finds out that Roger Chillingworth is out for revenge, he knows his religious career in Boston will be at an end, and his life will be miserable. What does Hester suggest?
5. What do the sunshine and the forest symbolize?

Chapters 18-21
1. What causes a moment of “estrangement” between Pearl and Hester?
2. What does Hester have to do by the brook before Pearl would come across?
3. Rev. Dimmesdale kisses Pearl. What does she do in response?
4. How does Rev. Mr. Dimmesdale’s attitude change after he decides to leave Boston with Hester/

Chapters 22-24
1. What shocking news does the commander of the Bristol ship bring Hester?
2. What disappoints Hester when Mr. Dimmesdale passes by?
3. What is ironic about the scene in the square as Dimmesdale gives the Election Day speech?
4. What does Mr. Dimmesdale tell the people of New England before he dies?
5. What do the people see when Mr. Dimmesdale takes off his ministerial band?
6. What happens to Hester, Pearl and Roger Chillingworth?

Journal Entries for The Scarlet Letter

Journal # 1 Due ________

The Marketplace, The Recognition, The Interview

Journal Notes
1. Select distinguishing characteristics and remarks for Hester Prynne, Rev. Dimmesdale and the stranger/physician.
2. Track how the crowd treats Hester/her punishment
3. Note Hawthorne’s references to Puritan living and how they indicate bias towards their actions and beliefs.

Journal Entry (CHOOSE 2 of the 4 )

#1 Discuss the contrasts in settings (market place vs. prison) and how they affect character, plot development or theme through the first three chapters.

#2 Characterization (details that create understanding of a character’s motivations, desires, physical & emotional traits, etc.)
a. Find a quote that describes the women in the “throng” of people; write the quote in MLA format.
b. Explain how the visual imagery helps characterize the women.
c. Find four examples of direct characterization—(physical traits, personality traits, etc., that the author states explicitly/directly.). ex. “tall with a figure of perfect elegance” (46) Explain how Hester is different from other women.
d. Explain the significance of the following quote: “’O, peace, neighbours, peace!’…’Do not let her hear you! Not a stitch embroidered in that letter, but she has felt it in her heart’” (47).

#3 Imagery (vivid or figurative language used to create a strong sensory experience for the reader) / Simile (a comparison of two unlike things using like or as)
a. Reread the opening paragraphs of the chapter. Identify examples of imagery and simile and explain how Hawthorne’s use of these devices initially characterize the “stranger.”

Connotation (idea or meaning suggested by or associated with a word) /Characterization
a. What are the connotations associated with the name Dimmesdale?
b. How does Hawthorne characterize Reverend Dimmesdale in chapter 3?

#4 Connotation (idea or meaning suggested by or associated with a word)
a. What are the connotations associated with the title of the chapter: “The Interview”?
b. What are the connotations associated with the name Chillingworth?
c. Near the end of the chapter Hester asks Chillingworth, “Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the forest round us?” How does Hawthorne use connotations of words to characterize Chillingworth & his relationship to Hester?
Journal # 2 Due ________
Reading :
Hester at her Needle, Pearl

Journal Notes:
1. Note suggestions that the public has not relented in their treatment of Hester.
2. Note suggestions that Hester has not relented in punishing herself.
3. Suggest parallels between Pearl’s temperament/appearance and her origin.

Journal Entries: (CHOOSE 2 of the 3 )

#1 Consider how/why Pearl’s name is an appropriate one for Hawthorne to give to Hester’s child.

#2 Simile (a comparison of two unlike things using like or as) / Indirect Characterization (thoughts, actions, details that indirectly show the reader a character’s traits)
a. Hawthorne writes, “It may seem marvellous, that, with the world before her. . . this woman should still call that place her home, where, and where only, she must needs be the type of shame” (73). What reasons does the narrator give for Hester’s choosing to stay?
b. Find the simile Hawthorne uses to explain how Hester hides her secret, and quote it using MLA format. What pattern do you notice in Hawthorne’s similes (see your response to #4)?
c. Review the fourth paragraph that begins “Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee” (Hawthorne 74). What setting details does Hawthorne use to further develop Hester’s character?

#3 Plot (the causally related sequence of events; motion in the novel) / Structure (organization of details, i.e. chapter divisions, etc.) / Theme (a lasting statement or message) / Allusion (reference to another work of literary, historical, or cultural significance).
a. How does Hawthorne use chapter titles to influence the reader’s understanding of the plot?
b. Write two theme statements (complete sentences) that Hawthorne seems to be revealing through the first 6 chapters.
c. Locate the Biblical allusion in the second paragraph of the chapter. How does Hawthorne’s reference to the Bible enhance your understanding of both Pearl’s & her parents’ character?
d. How does Hawthorne contrast the Biblical vision of Pearl toward the end of the chapter?
Journal # 3 Due ________
Reading :
The Governor’s Hall, The Elf-Child and the Minister

Journal Notes:
1. Note how Hawthorne has “romanticized” the Governor’s Hall (what seems out of the ordinary, given your knowledge of Puritan “tastes”?)
2. Establish links between Chapter 8 and Chapter 1.
3. Elf-Child? Offer suggestions why/how Pearl fits this moniker.

Journal Entries: (CHOOSE 2 of the 5)
1. How has Hester’s TONE towards Dimmesdale changed from her first conversation with him in the marketplace to this most recent one in Chapter 8 ?

2. How is Dimmesdale able to convince the Magistrates that Hester is a fitting mother? How is this evidence corroborated, in a way, by Hester’s encounter with Mistress Hibbins?
3. Characterization (details that create understanding of a character’s motivations, desires, physical & emotional traits, etc.)
a. Explain the way Hester and Pearl are dressed when they pay a visit to Govenor Bellingham’s house.
b. Explain how this visual imagery helps characterize both Hester and Pearl.
c. Explain the significance of the following quote: "There was a fire in her [Pearl] and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment."
d. Explain the significance of the following quote: “Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee!”

4. Characterization (author’s portrayal of character) / Mood (atmosphere) / Theme (a lasting statement or message)
Consider Pearl’s actions towards Dimmesdale after he saves her from being taken away from Hester. How does Pearl show that she understands what he has done for her?

5. Symbol (an object or idea that represents itself and an idea beyond itself)
When Dimmesdale comments about Pearl, he mentions that she needs no “witch’s broomstick to fly withal.” What does this tell us about Dimmesdale’s impression of Pearl? What does it reveal about his character?
Journal # 4 Due ________
Reading :
The Minister’s Vigil, Another View of Hester, Hester and the Physician, Hester and Pearl

Journal Notes:
1. Track how Pearl continues to operate on two different levels.
2. Consider permutations of/ possibilities for the symbolic value of the letter “A.”
3. Note the shift in the balance of power between Chillingworth and Hester.
4. Is Hester starting to be true to her own feelings? Record evidence yes/no.

Journal Entries:
1. Discuss Crucifixion parallels in The Minister’s Vigil.

2. In Another View of Hester, we notice her transition from adulteress (sinner) to free thinker (heretic); which Hester do you suppose is more repulsive to the Puritan community? How does Hawthorne address this transition symbolically?
Journal # 5 Due ________
A Forest Walk, The Pastor and His Parishioner
Journal Notes
1. What about the forest represents a battleground for the forces of good and evil? (Or light and darkness?)
2. Highlight Rhetorical devices in Hester’s speech to Dimmesdale.
Journal Entries
1. In Chapter 17, how, and why, have “the Pastor” and the “parishioner” switched roles?
2. Take another look at Hester’s advice to Dimmesdale on pages 152-54: what about this speech is profoundly “American”?
Journal # 6 Due ________
A Flood of Sunshine, The Child at the Brook-Side, The Minister in A Maze

Journal Notes
1. Identify possible symbolic elements in these three chapters.
2. Imagine you are directing Chapter 19 as if it were on the stage…where/how would you position your actors? (This could be done in a diagram/series of diagrams…)
3. Ruminate on reasons why Hawthorne titles Chapter 20 The Minister in A Maze…

Journal Entries
1. Why does Hawthorne choose to follow The Pastor and the Parishioner with A Flood of Sunshine?

2. Why/ how are Hester and Dimmesdale “like ghosts”? (You may need to reach back into Chapter 16 for this one…!)


3. Explore possibilities for pairing Chapters 19 & 20…
Journal Notes and Entries: Stitching Your A’s…
1. Your job here is to convince me that you have read & interacted with Hawthorne’s text: we will boldly go where Mr. Cliff, Spark, Pink Monkey, Barron, et al., dare not tread.

2. Your journals will be collected on the dates indicated and will be submitted at the START OF CLASS on the day they are due.

A. NO Journals will be accepted after the due date

3. Each submission involves a pair of entries: I will check one of the entries for completion and evaluate the other for content and substance. My decisions in this regard will be merely a function of my own capriciousness at the moment I pick up your Journal. [Thusly, it would behoove you to complete all of the assignments at a thorough level.]

4. Journals increase in value as we move through the text:
Submission # 1 = 10 points (completion)/15 points (evaluation) Journals 1/2
Submission # 2 = 10 points (completion)/30 points (evaluation) Journals 3/4
Submission # 3 = 15 points (completion)/25 points (evaluation) Journals 5/6

Total=105 READING Points

5. Regarding Journal Notes, I am looking for direct textual references NOT paraphrase:
Ex. (Reading 1: Notes 1)  Dimmesdale was “a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow….” (19)

Students wishing to earn full credit will then interact with the text:
Ex. Dimmesdale was “a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow….” (19)  characteristics which suggest D. is a figure of very high stature in the town/superiority/possibly even angelic or godly

6. Regarding Journal Entries, I am looking for fully developed, textually supported, appropriately constructed, scrutinizingly edited written responses. Your responses should follow the format for appealing responses we have already examined. These are formal essays, ideally composed over time and outside of class: as such, they should be insightful as well as mechanically sound. [See “Prison Door” example, for instance.]

7. I am requiring your Journals to be typed; however if you have computer issues, I must have the assignment in electronic format before the beginning of class for you to receive credit. I will happily print them for you using the school’s printer.



The theme of a work of fiction is its central idea. The theme goes beyond the plot or the subject of the story to raise an issue or general idea that applies to you, the reader. The theme of a piece of fiction is its view about life and how people behave. Essentially, a theme is a comment on humanity, reality, and perhaps society.
• Themes are generally implied rather than directly stated.
• The theme is not the plot; however, a statement of theme often emerges from the central conflict of the story.
• Themes are declarative sentences that relate the specifics of a story to the human experience.
• Themes are not single concepts or one word ideas.
Example- Not a theme: Heroism
Theme: Devotion to an ideal can make a simple life heroic.

DO …
Here are some ways to uncover the theme in a story:
• Consider the elements of story— title, point of view, characterization, plotting, setting, and language— to determine how they are uniquely combined and may contribute to the story’s theme.
• Notice repeating patterns and symbols as they may lead you to a theme.
• What are the details and particulars in the story? What greater meaning may they have?
• Remember that theme, plot, and structure are inseparable, all helping to inform and reflect back on each other. Also, be aware that a theme we determine from a story never completely explains the story. It is simply one of the elements that make up the whole.
• Make sure that your theme is supported by the events/facts of the novel.
• Keep in mind that a story may have more than one theme.

DON’T ...
1) Use words like “every”, “all,” and “always.” Words such as “some” and “sometimes” are often more accurate. [In other words, because a central character experiences something in a story does not mean that it is applicable to everyone.]
2) Use the names of characters or places in the novel in your statements of theme. Remember, a theme is a general revelation about the nature of existence.
Incorrect: John Proctor, an otherwise good man, experiences a severe moral decline and ultimately commits adultery.
Correct: Even morally strong people may experience a moral decline during a moment of weakness.
3) Don’t resort to oversimplified cliché in stating a theme such as “honesty is the best policy.” Remember that a theme is different from a moral.
4) Be sure not to impose an unsupported theme on a story. Don't read your own experiences into a story.

THEME IDEA + statement about life = theme

American Dream
Appearance vs. reality
Coming of Age
Death and Dying
Despair and discontent
Faith/loss of faith
Free will/will power



Definition of symbol from Kennedy’s An Introduction to Fiction: “a person, place, or thing in a narrative that suggests meanings beyond its literal sense” (Kennedy 833).

Alternate definition from Perrine’s Story and Structure: “A [literary] symbol is something that means more than what it is. It is an object, a person, a situation, an action, or some other item that has a literal meaning [in the story] but suggests or represents other meanings as well.”

A throne:
• literal meaning—chair for king
• figurative meaning—power of the king

Heavy Books (in The Crucible)
• literal meaning—scientific literature regarding witchcraft
• figurative meaning—characterization of Hale’s authority and the respect that others have for him, but also the heavy burden the witch hunt thrusts upon the Salem village.

Aside from being things, symbols may be actions, characters, settings, or names.

A symbolic action—the old man drinks in a “clean, well-lighted place”:
• literal meaning—the old man takes a beverage
• figurative meaning—many possess and desire to escape feelings of despair, loneliness, and angst

A symbolic character—makes brief cameo appearances and often are not well-rounded or fully known, but are seen fleetingly and remain slightly mysterious” (244).

Death in “Godfather Death”—“
• literal meaning—Death is a character in the tale
• figurative meaning—Death (the figure) represents death (the event)

Points to Remember When Identifying Symbols:
1. There is usually no single, definitive figurative meaning for a symbol. It usually has an “amplitude of meanings” (243). However, make sure that you do not assign too many meanings to a symbol. A symbol does not usually mean just one thing; nor does it mean everything.

2. Don’t be vague when interpreting a symbol; rather, be specific. You can often achieve this by noting exactly what is associated with the symbol in the text.

3. Avoid becoming “symbol happy.” Not everything in a text is symbolic.

4. How do you determine what is symbolic? Authors often place symbols in positions of emphasis—beginnings, endings, and titles, for example. Also, symbols often tend to appear repeatedly in a work.

5. If something is symbolic, it often contributes to the establishment of theme.

Why do writers use symbols?

--A symbol is “compact, and yet so fully laden. . . . What [a] symbol says, it says more fully and more memorably than could be said, perhaps, in a long essay on the subject” (Kennedy 245).

-- A symbol is multi-valued. For example, it may advance plot at the same time it illustrates theme and character. For example, in The Crucible, the poppet symbolizes Elizabeth’s ultimate condemnation and the extent to which (pun intended) Abigail will go to gain John’s affection, yet at the same time it represents witchcraft.

The Scarlet Letter—Symbolism Analysis

Directions: For Chapters 1-4 reading, choose one symbol that seems to be important. Provide at least 1-2 quotes (typed in MLA format) and write at least 3-5 sentences of commentary explaining how the symbol is used in the novel (Look very closely at how the author incorporates the symbol—in relation to characters, setting, conflict, etc.) If you choose do research, please provide the information for the source you cite.

Suggestions for Symbol Analysis

Shadows—day and night—light or the
lack of it
The scaffold
The letter A
Colors—red, black, green
Character Names


A setting is the time, place and social environment in which a story takes place. People exist in a particular time and place. Where we live may contribute not only to our personality, but also to our values, attitudes, and even our problems. In literature, setting (time and place) can also influence characters and what they do. Settings can also reinforce key themes or ideas about characters. When you read for setting note suggestive details, unique uses of language and references to the historical or cultural environment.
Time refers to the when of a story. There are four different kinds of time to consider:
Clock time: this can be used to provide suspense or create certain moods or feelings.
Calendar time: the day, month, year, or more generally a day of the week or time of the month may provide an understanding of what takes place in a piece of literature.
Seasonal time: the seasons or a span of time associated with a particular activity may be important.
Historical time: this can establish a psychological or sociological understanding of behaviors and attitudes.
We may find significance in the physical location where the action occurs, but we should also think about the nonphysical environment.
The physical environment, including weather conditions, may be specifically described.
The nonphysical environment includes cultural influences such as education, social standing, economic class, and religious belief. These may be revealed by physical properties in the scene or through the characters' dialogue, thoughts, statements, and behaviors.
Uses of setting
The setting may be nothing more than the backdrop for what occurs; however, it may be directly linked to mood or meaning.
• It can create an atmosphere that affects our response to the work.
• It may have a direct effect on a character's motivation.
• An external force may enter the setting and change it, causing conflict for the characters.
• The setting itself may be an antagonist.
• Two settings may come into conflict with each other, causing conflict in the characters who must live in them and perhaps have to choose between them.

The Scarlet Letter—Setting Analysis

Directions: For this week’s reading, choose one moment in the text when setting seems to be important. After quoting the text in MLA format, write at least 3-5 sentences of commentary explaining how the setting is used in the novel (Consider the notes above and move beyond general analysis of the Puritan time period. Look very closely at the details of setting and analyze how they contribute to the novel as a whole).

Summary of Ch 5-7

The Scarlet Letter: Summaries of Chapters 5, 6, and 7

Summary—Chapter 5: Hester at Her Needle
The narrator covers the events of several years. After a few months, Hester is released from prison. Although she is free to leave Boston, she chooses not to do so. She settles in an abandoned cabin on a patch of infertile land at the edge of town. Hester remains alienated from everyone, including the town fathers, respected women, beggars, children, and even strangers. She serves as a walking example of a fallen woman, a cautionary tale for everyone to see. Although she is an outcast, Hester remains able to support herself due to her uncommon talent in needlework. Her taste for the beautiful infuses her embroidery, rendering her work fit to be worn by the governor despite its shameful source. Although the ornate detail of her artistry defies Puritan codes of fashion, it is in demand for burial shrouds, christening gowns, and officials’ robes. In fact, through her work, Hester touches all the major events of life except for marriage—it is deemed inappropriate for chaste brides to wear the product of Hester Prynne’s hands. Despite her success, Hester feels lonely and is constantly aware of her alienation. As shame burns inside of her, she searches for companionship or sympathy, but to no avail. She devotes part of her time to charity work, but even this is more punishment than solace: those she helps frequently insult her, and making garments for the poor out of rough cloth insults her aesthetic sense.

Summary—Chapter 6: Pearl
Hester’s one consolation is her daughter, Pearl, who is described in great detail in this chapter. A beautiful flower growing out of sinful soil, Pearl is so named because she was “purchased with all [Hester] had—her mother’s only treasure!” Because “in giving her existence a great law had been broken,” Pearl’s very being seems to be inherently at odds with the strict rules of Puritan society. Pearl has inherited all of Hester’s moodiness, passion, and defiance, and she constantly makes mischief. Hester loves but worries about her child. When the narrator describes Pearl as an “outcast,” he understates: Pearl is an “imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants.” Pearl herself is aware of her difference from others, and when Hester tries to teach her about God, Pearl says, “I have no Heavenly Father!” Because Pearl is her mother’s constant companion, she, too, is subject to the cruelties of the townspeople. The other children are particularly cruel because they can sense that something is not quite right about Hester and her child. Knowing that she is alone in this world, Pearl creates casts of characters in her imagination to keep her company. Pearl is fascinated by the scarlet letter and at times seems to intentionally torture her mother by playing with it. Once, when Pearl is pelting the letter with wildflowers, Hester exclaims in frustration, “Child, what art thou?” Pearl turns the question back on her mother, insisting that Hester tell her of her origins. Surprised at the impudence of a child so young (Pearl is about three at the time), Hester wonders if Pearl might not be the demon-child that many of the townspeople believe her to be.

Summary—Chapter 7: The Governor’s Hall
Hester pays a visit to Governor Bellingham’s mansion. She has two intentions: to deliver a pair of ornate gloves she has made for the governor, and to find out if there is any truth to the rumors that Pearl, now three, may be taken from her. Some of the townspeople, apparently including the governor, have come to suspect Pearl of being a sort of demon-child. The townspeople reason that if Pearl is a demon-child, she should be taken from Hester for Hester’s sake. And, they reason, if Pearl is indeed a human child, she should be taken away from her mother for her own sake and given to a “better” parent than Hester Prynne. On their way to see the governor, Hester and Pearl are attacked by a group of children, who try to fling mud at them. Pearl becomes angry and frightens the children off. The governor’s mansion is stuffy and severe. It is built in the style of the English aristocracy, complete with family portraits and a suit of armor, which the governor has worn in battles with the Native Americans. Pearl is fascinated by the armor. When she points out her mother’s reflection in it, Hester is horrified to see that the scarlet letter dominates the reflection. Pearl begins to scream for a rose from the bush outside the window, but she is quieted by the entrance of a group of men.

Summary of Ch 16; 19-22

The Scarlet Letter: Summaries of Chapters 16; 19-22
Summary—Chapter 16: A Forest Walk
“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!”
Intent upon telling Dimmesdale the truth about Chillingworth’s identity, Hester waits for the minister in the forest, because she has heard that he will be passing through on the way back from visiting a Native American settlement. Pearl accompanies her mother and romps in the sunshine along the way. Curiously, the sunshine seems to shun Hester. As they wait for Dimmesdale by a brook, Pearl asks Hester to tell her about the “Black Man” and his connection to the scarlet letter. She has overheard an old woman discussing the midnight excursions of Mistress Hibbins and others, and the woman mentioned that Hester’s scarlet letter is the mark of the “Black Man.” When Pearl sees Dimmesdale’s figure emerging from the wood, she asks whether the approaching person is the “Black Man.” Hester, wanting privacy, tries to hurry Pearl off into the woods to play, but Pearl, both scared of and curious about the “Black Man,” wants to stay. Exasperated, Hester exclaims, “It is no Black Man!
. . . It is the minister!” Pearl scurries off, but not before wondering aloud whether the minister clutches his heart because the “Black Man” has left a mark there too.
READ Chapters 17 and 18 from the text.
Summary—Chapter 19: The Child at the Brook-Side
Hester calls to Pearl to join her and Dimmesdale. From the other side of the brook, Pearl eyes her parents with suspicion. She refuses to come to her mother, pointing at the empty place on Hester’s chest where the scarlet letter used to be. Hester has to pin the letter back on and effect a transformation back into her old, sad self before Pearl will cross the creek. In her mother’s arms, Pearl kisses Hester and, seemingly out of spite, also kisses the scarlet letter. Hester tries to encourage Pearl to embrace Dimmesdale as well, although she does not tell her that the minister is her father. Pearl, aware that the adults seem to have made some sort of arrangement, asks, “Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?” Because Dimmesdale will not, Pearl rebuffs his subsequent kiss on the forehead. She runs to the brook and attempts to wash it off.
Summary—Chapter 20: The Minister in a Maze
As the minister returns to town, he can hardly believe the change in his fortunes. He and Hester have decided to go to Europe, since it offers more anonymity and a better environment for Dimmesdale’s fragile health. Through her charity work, Hester has become acquainted with the crew of a ship that is to depart for England in four days, and the couple plans to secure passage on this vessel. Tempted to announce to all he sees, “I am not the man for whom you take me! I left him yonder in the forest,” Dimmesdale now finds things that were once familiar, including himself, to seem strange.
As he passes one of the church elders on his way through town, the minister can barely control his urge to utter blasphemous statements. He then encounters an elderly woman who is looking for a small tidbit of spiritual comfort. To her he nearly blurts out a devastating “unanswerable argument against the immortality of the human soul,” but something stops him, and the widow totters away satisfied. He next ignores a young woman whom he has recently converted to the church because he fears that his strange state of mind will lead him to plant some corrupting germ in her innocent heart. Passing one of the sailors from the ship on which he plans to escape, Dimmesdale has the impulse to engage with him in a round of oaths; this comes only shortly after an encounter with a group of children, whom the minister nearly teaches some “wicked words.” Finally, Dimmesdale runs into
Mistress Hibbins, who chuckles at him and offers herself as an escort the next time he visits the forest. This interchange disturbs Dimmesdale and suggests to him that he may have made a bargain with Mistress Hibbins’s master, the Devil.
When he reaches his house, Dimmesdale tells Chillingworth that he has no more need of the physician’s drugs. Chillingworth becomes wary but is afraid to ask Dimmesdale outright if the minister knows his real identity. Dimmesdale has already started to write the sermon he is expected to deliver in three days for Election Day (a religious as well as civil holiday that marks the opening of the year’s legislative session). In light of his new view of humanity, he now throws his former manuscript in the fire and writes a newer and better sermon.
Summary—Chapter 21: The New England Holiday
Echoing the novel’s beginning, the narrator describes another public gathering in the marketplace. But this time the purpose is to celebrate the installation of a new governor, not to punish Hester Prynne. The celebration is relatively sober, but the townspeople’s “Elizabethan” love of splendor lends an air of pageantry to the goings-on. As they wait in the marketplace among an assorted group of townsfolk, Native Americans, and sailors from the ship that is to take Hester and Dimmesdale to Europe, Pearl asks Hester whether the strange minister who does not want to acknowledge them in public will hold out his hands to her as he did at the brook. Lost in her thoughts and largely ignored by the crowd, Hester is imagining herself defiantly escaping from her long years of dreariness and isolation. Her sense of anticipation is shattered, however, when one of the sailors casually reveals that Chillingworth will be joining them on their passage because the ship needs a doctor and Chillingworth has told the captain that he is a member of Hester’s party. Hester looks up to see Chillingworth standing across the marketplace, smirking at her.
Summary—Chapter 22: The Procession
“Mother,” said [Pearl], “was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?”
“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!” whispered [Hester]. “We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.
The majestic procession passes through the marketplace. A company of armored soldiers is followed by a group of the town fathers, whose stolid and dour characters are prominently displayed. Hester is disheartened to see the richness and power of Puritan tradition displayed with such pomp. She and other onlookers notice that Dimmesdale, who follows the town leaders, looks healthier and more energetic than he has in some time. Although only a few days have passed since he kissed her forehead next to the forest brook, Pearl barely recognizes the minister. She tells Hester that she is tempted to approach the man and bestow a kiss of her own, and Hester scolds her. Dimmesdale’s apparent vigor saddens Hester because it makes him seem remote. She begins to question the wisdom of their plans. Mistress Hibbins, very elaborately dressed, comes to talk to Hester about Dimmesdale. Saying that she knows those who serve the Black Man, Mistress Hibbins refers to what she calls the minister’s “mark” and declares that it will soon, like Hester’s, be plain to all. Suggesting that the Devil is Pearl’s real father, Mistress Hibbins invites the child to go on a witch’s ride with her at some point in the future. The narrator interrupts his narration of the celebration to note that Mistress Hibbins will soon be executed as a witch.
After the old woman leaves, Hester takes her place at the foot of the scaffold to listen to Dimmesdale’s sermon, which has commenced inside the meetinghouse. Pearl, who has been wandering around the marketplace, returns to give her mother a message from the ship’s master—Chillingworth says he will make the arrangements for bringing Dimmesdale on board, so Hester should attend only to herself and her child. While Hester worries about this new development, she suddenly realizes that everyone around her—both those who are familiar with her scarlet letter and those who are not—is staring at her.