Hester Prynne, a member of a once affluent and prosperous family, was arranged to marry a physician by the name of Roger Chillingworth. Although not out of love, they are married and live successful lives in Amsterdam. When they eventually decide to settle in America, Hester is set on ahead of Roger so that he may finish his business in Amsterdam. Hester does not hear from her husband for two years, and many people conceive of his being lost at sea. Hester then falls in love with another man and they have a child together.
She is found guilty of committing adultery and is sentenced to stand holding her child before Boston on a scaffold for three hours. She is interrogated as to who her fellow sinner is, but she remains strong. Many women of the town believe that Hester’s penalty is not harsh enough and therefore, she is marked with the letter A upon her chest. She is returned to her prison cell and a doctor is summoned to help calm her. The doctor turns out to be her lost husband, Chillingworth, and he makes Hester promise to never reveal that he is her husband.
She does so in return for the secrecy of the name of the man who is the father of her daughter, Pearl. Eventually, Hester settles down with Pearl in a small cottage and leads a basically normal life as a seamstress. Pearl turns out to be a very peculiar child with a disobedient attitude towards life. She is ‘imp-like’; in appearance and many people believe that she could be a bad influence on their comfortable Puritan town. With hearing talk that Pearl may be taken away from her, she goes to the Governor Bellingham’s office in order to talk him into letting her keep the child.
Bellingham is displeased with Pearl’s attitude of the church and Puritanism, and therefore decides to take her away. Just before he does, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale steps in and talks Bellingham out of it. Chillingworth witnesses all of this and is surprised to see how strongly Dimmesdale defends Hester and Pearl. Late one night, after struggling with his guilt, Dimmesdale goes to the center of the town and stands upon the scaffold, confessing his guilt.
Supposedly, no one witnesses this as Hester and Pearl join him. Abruptly, Pearl points into the shadows where they could make out the image of Roger Chillingworth. Yet another night, while Dimmesdale is sleeping, Chillingworth notices a strange mark on the Reverend’s chest. All of these incidents, along with Dimmesdale’s failing health, (which Chillingworth deems to be a result of severe guilt) provide him with more than enough information to make a jump to who is Pearl’s biological father.
While Chillingworth continues to take joy in watching Dimmesdale’s physical degeneration, Hester feels she must help him and therefore asks Chillingworth to allow her to reveal him as her husband. One day, Hester stops Dimmesdale in the woods and announces that Chillingworth is her husband. She tells him to move to Boston and start a new life. Dimmesdale says that he shall, but not alone. So Hester tells him, ‘Thou shalt not go alone! ‘; They become excited about starting a new life together, and Hester throws her scarlet letter amidst the trees and calls for Pearl.
Pearl refuses to come to her mother because she is not wearing the scarlet A, which confuses Pearl. To appease Pearl, Hester again attaches the letter to her chest. At Election Day, (when the new governor is inaugurated) Dimmesdale gives a brilliant speech but seems very weak. Returning from the church, he collapses, then regains his balance and continues forward. He makes it to the scaffold, and with the help of Hester, he climbs it to face the town. He cries out that he is the true father of Pearl. He tears his shirt open to reveal a scarlet letter A blazed upon his chest.
His confession is what eventually sets his soul free and conquers the evil Chillingworth. After the passing away of Dimmesdale, Chillingworth has nothing to maintain his craving for revenge, and thereby dies shortly after. His money and possessions are left to Pearl, who has now become a lady, unlike her former ‘devilish’; self. She and her mother go on to lead comfortable lives in England and then in Boston after they return in a number of years. Hester and Pearl become prominent Boston townsfolk, and live their last years in peace.