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Scarlet Letter Summaries

Chapter 1 This chapter briefly introduces seventeenth-century Boston, where a group of Puritans stand in front of a somber prison or a black flower of civilized society, which seems older that its age. The area around the prison is gray and gloomy. Decay and ugliness are apparent in the author’s descriptions, the only exception is a lovely wild rosebush, whose origin is uncertain, blooming by the prison door.

Chapter 2 The chapter opens as the Puritans are discussing Hester Prynne and her sin. With almost no exceptions, the ridged townswomen are unhappy with the mildness of her punishment. Hester comes out of the prison and walks to the scaffold wearing an elaborately embroidered scarlet letter A on her breast, and carrying a small infant in her arms. As she is standing alone on the scaffold she attempts to escape her shame by dreaming of her past life in England.

Chapter 3 While standing on the platform, Hester recognizes a man in the crowd who is accompanied by an Indian. This man inquires about her and why she is there. This is where we learn that she has committed adultery (the scarlet letter A is for adultery). The man seems very concerned that the other guilty party should also be on the scaffold. Hawthorne hints that the stranger is her lost husband.

Chapter 4 Once she is back in her cell, she is frenzied and a physician is brought in. He is the stranger in the crowd that Hester recognized, and was alarmed by. He gives Hester and her child a sedative, which calms them down and gives them time to talk. We find that he is her husband who was left behind in England. He does not want revenge, he only wants to know who it was that violated his marriage. He then asks that if she will not reveal the name of her lover that she will also keep his identity a secret. Roger Chillingworth, her husband, is determined to make a home in Boston, and find the man who is the father of Hester’s child.

Chapter 5 Hester punishes herself more than anyone else could. Once out of prison she has the choice to move anywhere, and leave her past behind, yet she stays near Boston and lives with the torture of always being an example of sin. She works as a seamstress, saving just enough for herself and her daughter, giving the rest to the poor, who are openly hateful. Daily people stare and talk about her, which takes a toll on her attitude, dress, and behavior. She thinks of all of her past pleasures as sins, and enjoys nothing. She is always conscious of her letter, and is alarmed by the idea that the letter on her breast allows her to recognize sins in others.

Chapter 6 This chapter describes Pearl as an impish and uncontrollable child. Pearl is a very beautiful child, and her mother dresses her very lavishly. Her first awareness as a child is Hester’s scarlet letter, and the letter continues to be a center of Pearl’s attention. Pearl makes imaginary playmates into enemies, not friends. Hester is worried when she seems to see an evil, fiend-like face in Pearl’s eyes. Pearl does not believe her mother’s words that she was sent her by the Heavenly Father.

Chapter 7 Hester is concerned about rumors that Pearl is going to be taken away from her. She goes to the Governor’s house to question him, under the pretence of delivering gloves. Pearl is dressed in an elaborate gown with golden threads which manages to look just like Hester’s scarlet “A”. Pearl and her mother are waiting in the hall when they look at their reflections in a coat of armor and Hester’s image appears to be distorted so that the “A” is larger than Hester is. When they move out into the garden, Pearl is fascinated with a red rose and screams for her mother to give it to her.

Chapter 8 Hester meets Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, Wilson, and Gov. Bellingham in the garden. She is struck by the changes in Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth has gotten much uglier and Dimmesdale’s health has suffered lately from his self-sacrificing labors as a pastor. Billingham tells Wilson to speak with Pearl to decide if she has been raised a good Puritan and can remain with Hester. Wilson is appalled when he asks Pearl about her origins, and she says she was picked from the wild rose bush by the prison. What Wilson takes for ignorance was simply Pearl’s contrariness. Wilson wants her removed from Hester’s care. Hester desperately appeals to Dimmesdale, who speaks so eloquently on her behalf that Hester is allowed to keep Pearl. Chillingworth suspects Dimmesdale and brings up searching for Pearl’s father again to which Wilson replies that every Christian man should show a father’s kindness towards her.

Chapter 9 Chillingworth sets himself up as a doctor and completely abandons his former identity. As Dimmesdale’s health declines rumors spread, and it is believed that Chillingworth was sent from Providence to help Dimmesdale. Finally Dimmesdale allowes Chillingworth to become his physician and friend. Chillingworth strives to learn everything about him in order to understand his ailments. He even belives that they should lodge in the same house. Even while most citizens continue to believe Chillingworth was a good friend to Dimmesdale, a growing number are beginning to see Chillingworth in a much uglier light, even as an agent of Satan or himself, coming to test Dimmesdale.

Chapter 10 Chillingworth was always, in the past, an honorable man, but in his pursuit of finding the father of Hester’s child he has become a more evil, and ugly man. He is determined to find something undesirable in Dimmesdale. As they are collecting plants in the graveyard, they discuss man’s nature and the merits of confessing their sins and guilt. Dimmesdale asks Chillingworth his opinion on his ailments, and Chillingworth replies that he can not help because Dimmesdale will not share with him.

Dimmesdale then replies that if it were a spiritual problem, he would not ask for Chillingworth’s opinion. They catch a glimpse of Hester and Pearl in the graveyard below. They discus Pearl until she hears them and warns her mother to come away from the “black man” before he gets a hold of her as he has gotten a hold of Dimmesdasle. At the end of the chapter Chilligworth enters the room while Dimmesdale is in a deep sleep and he looks under his robe at his bosom, and looks away with a look of wonder, joy, and horror at what he sees there.

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