Novel Summary

Summary of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel, The Scarlet Letter.



 The Scarlet Letter

            In Nathanial Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne explores the Puritan way of life, in the middle seventeenth century Boston, and an incite of crimes; adultery.  The novel showcases the immigration of Europeans to the New World from England as they were escaping religious persecution. The novel also shows how the love for one person can escalate the hate in another, for example the love between Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale, and the hate that Chillingsworth has for Hester and Dimmesdale.

            In the opening chapters of the novel the reader learns that Hester is coming to New England from Europe with her husband, who is not with her. He is an older man that she doesn’t love, but the reader never fully understands why. Shortly after her arrival in New England she has an affair with a man who we learn to be the reverend of the colony, Dimmesdale. The townfathers soon recognized her being pregnant, and knew that it was adultery. She was instantly jailed for her sin, never releasing the identity of the father. Prynne was soon released with her daughter, Pearl, and was forced to wear a scarlet letter in the shape of an ‘A’ on her breast on all of her clothing as punishment.

            As Hester was being publically humiliated, an old man in the crowd is told that she is being tried for adultery; he is in actuality, Hester’s husband who came over on another ship, but never arrived in Boston. He soon became a doctor and changed his name to Chillingworth, and his every intent is getting revenge on Hester. He revealed only his identity to her, and she was sworn to secrecy. All the while, Dimmesdale is making himself psychologically and physically sick with a mysterious heart problems through the secrets he is keeping. Chillingworth realizes that there is a connection between Hester, Pearl, and the reverend. Still seeking his revenge, he moves in with Dimmesdale to give him “around the clock care.” He then, unknowingly to Dimmesdale, begins experimenting treatments on him that are only making him worse.

            One night while Pearl and her mother were out they see Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold and they join him. Her father refuses her request to acknowledge her the next day and a meteor paints a faint red ‘A’ across the night sky  The three decide to escape back to Europe on a ship leaving Boston in four days from then. Chillingworth gets news of this, and he books himself a spot on the same passage. A day before the ship is supposed to sail the town gathers to celebrate Independence day, and Dimmesdale delivers his most power sermon ever. Afterwards, he sees his lover and daughter atop the scaffold and there he subsequently joins them, he confesses his sins, and bares a scarlet letter burned into his bare chest. He falls dead, and Pearl kisses him.

            Chillngworth dies a year later out of frustration. Hester and Pearl leave, and no one knows what happens to them, until one day many years later when Hester returns to live in her old cottage and still wearing the scarlet letter.

            Many symbols where used in the novel, such as the meteor, the rosebush outside the prison door, the scaffold, and the scarlet letter that Hester wore. They represented many things, like the meteor and the letter reminded them of the sins they had committed, and the love they share. The rose bush represents hope for Hester as she sits inside her cell, but a rose also has thorns which represent the sins she had committed. The scaffold means that they can be together. The many themes and motifs in the book include sin, experience, the nature of evil, and night and day.

            The Scarlet Letter is considered a classic because Hawthorne uses many universal and timeless themes which everyone, no matter what time period or place, can relate to. It also, at the time was morality wrong to write about such things as adultery, because of the harshness of the crime and its punishments, but it exposed those, and brought and incite to it, and people learned to grow and coupe with the situation.