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The Scarlet Letter

by
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Surveyor of The Custom
House
• Having contributed to the
Democratic Review, and
once the Democrats were
in power in the mid
1840s, Hawthorne was
appointed surveyor of the
customhouse of Salem,
an experience which
aided him in writing the
Introduction to The
Scarlet Letter
• Hawthorne found a piece
of cloth with an A on it
and used it as the major Custom House in Derby
symbol of his novel about Street, Salem,
the Puritan lifestyle Massachusetts
The Romantic Hawthorne
• Hawthorne is considered a • Hawthorne is haunted by
writer of the Literary what is obscure, dangerous,
Movement known as and the confines of good and
Romanticism evil, by what is abnormal, and
social relations
• Romantics concern
themselves with the soul, • It is what is mysterious in the
soul that attracts him
stress emotions over
reason, show an • All of his stories are about
appreciation for nature, people’s crimes—or
misunderstood virtue or
and focus on the misfortune—which, created
exceptional figure and his by themselves, leaves them
passions and inner in a worse companionship
struggles than solitude
• All Hawthorne’s work is one • The soul becomes the
form or another of individual’s “best friend”
“handling sin” because the person is
• He was intensely interested shunned by everyone else
in Puritanism as a historic
phenomenon
The 411 on The Scarlet
Letter
• Set in 17 Century
th

Boston
• Puritan code of life
• Main characters
– Hester Prynne
– Pearl Prynne
– Arthur Dimmesdale
– Roger Chillingworth
• Novel spans a total
of seven years
• The Scarlet Letter as
a SATIRE
Themes in The Scarlet
Letter
1. Alienation—the 4. Pride—Hawthorne
character is in a state of treats pride as evil;
isolation because of self- spiritual pride,
cause, or societal cause, intellectual, and
or a combination of both physical
2. Initiation—involves the 5. Allegory—each
attempts of an alienated character is a labeled
character to get rid of his
isolated condition equivalent of
“something bigger”
3. Problem of Guilt —a
character’s sense of guilt 6. Other themes—
forced by the Puritan individual vs. society,
lifestyle/heritage or by self-fulfillment vs.
society; guilt vs. accommodation or
innocence frustration; hypocrisy
vs. integrity, love vs.
hate, exploitation vs.
hurting, and fate vs.
free will
Symbols

• Weeds
• Rose-bush
• Flowers
• Prison
• Cemetery
• Scaffold
• Town beadle
• Letter A
• Pearl
• Sunshine
• Brook
Chapter 1: The Prison Door
• Exposition and setting of
novel
• First two edifices built—
foreshadowing or strict
Puritan code?
• Rosebush, weed, and
other flowers grow “by
chance”
• First few symbols
– Cemetery
– Prison
– Weeds
– Rosebush
The Prison Door
– flowers
Chapter 2: The Market
• 1st
Place
of 3 scaffold scenes
• The scorns of the women
• Introduction of Hester
Prynne holding her
daughter, Pearl—image
created by Hawthorne is
like the Madonna and
child (IRONY & SATIRE)
• Hester’s beauty
• Introduction of the scarlet
letter
• Reveries of long ago
• A familiar stranger
One “might have seen in this beautiful woman…an
object to remind him of the image of Divine
Chapter 3: The Recognition
• Hester recognizes her
husband
• Where has he been
these two years?
• The riddle begins to
consume Chillingworth
already
• Introduction of the
magistrates and their
plea for Hester to
announce her partner in
crime
– what would they have
done to him?
Chapter 4: The Interview
• Why doesn’t
Chillingworth want to
kill Hester and her
child?
• Chillingworth as the
leech = pun
• Chillingworth admits it
was both of their
faults
• Hester holds two
secrets
• Hester asks if
Chillingworth is the
Black Man
Chapter 5: Hester at Her
Needle
• Hester is released from prison • Hester must support herself
but decides to stay in Boston and Pearl, so she sews
for three reasons:
• Even the wealthy people
– She feels drawn to the place that
marked a great change or
who once scolded her pay
growth in her life her for her expertise with
– The gentleman who fathered her the needle
baby still resides in Boston
• Hester is allowed to sew
– She feels she must repent of her everything—but a wedding
sins by staying and doing what
she can for forgiveness dress
• In her spare time, Hester
gives her time to charities
Chapter 6: Pearl
• Hester named her baby Pearl, “as
being of great price,--purchased
with all she had…” (82).
• Pearl was called a sprite, an imp,
an elf—all alluding to her expected
terror-like behavior being the
product of sin
• Hester admitted that the only times
she felt as peace was when Pearl
was asleep
• Hester knows that Pearl was given
to her to remind her of her sin;
Pearl saw to it that her mother
“paid the price”
• Is she a devil-child or just an
innocent product of love?
Chapter 7: The Governor’s
Hall
• Hester is afraid that they
will take Pearl away from
her
• Hester understands that
Pearl is her punishment
and gift from God—to
remind her of her sin and
her love
• Irony & satire: the
governor’s hall is
exquisite when the Puritan
code strictly forbids
“earthly treasures”
Chapter 8: The Elf-Child & the
Minister
• Governor Bellingham
affirms that they will take
Pearl from Hester
• Hester turns to Reverend
Dimmesdale for help
• Dimmesdale points out
that the child was sent by
God as a reminder of her
sin
• If Hester can “turn the
child around,” then Pearl
may just help Hester enter
Heaven as well
Chapter 9: The Leech
• Chillingworth is revered for his • The two begin to live
skills as a physician;
Dimmesdale is revered for his in the same house
sermons that grow stronger
each Sunday, even though his
• The townspeople
health deteriorates each day notice a big change in
• The townspeople beg Chillingworth’s
Dimmesdale to take
Chillingworth as his physician,
appearance and begin
and the reverend finally accepts to gossip that either
• Chillingworth grows suspicious Satan or Satan’s
of Dimmesdale’s unexpected emissary has now
deteriorating health
resided along with
their godly Reverend
Dimmesdale and fear
for their pastor
Chapter 10: The Leech& His
Patient
• Chillingworth and Dimmesdale
discuss guilt
• Chillingworth urges
Dimmesdale to share his guilt,
but the latter refuses
• Dimmesdale admits that
Hester is better off than her
secret lover, for he believes it
is “better for the sufferer to be
free to show his pain, as
[Hester], than to cover it all up
in his heart” (124).
• Chillingworth “unravels” the
truth
Chapter 11: The Interior of
a Heart
• Dimmesdale “achieved a • The townspeople, upon
brilliant popularity in his hearing him speak
sacred office” boldly about his own
• All of his sermons hinted at wrongdoings, did
his own sins but he never nothing more but
confessed outwardly
revere him all the more
• Townspeople thought he
was too godly and were • We find out that he
humbled by him whips himself with a
• They deemed Dimmesdale scourge, keeps vigils
to be “a miracle of each night, and fasts—
holiness” all of which have led to
• Dimmesdale tried to his deteriorating health
confess but never could • He finally realized he
could do something
about his guilt
Chapter 12: The Minister’s

Vigil
Sleepwalking, Dimmesdale • Chillingworth sees the three
leads himself to the and smiles devilishly—and
scaffold—2nd major scaffold Dimmesdale declares his hate
scene for the physician (isn’t it a sin
to hate?)
• He utters a cry—for • Pearl asks one of the most
repentance or to try to call important questions to
out to others so they could Dimmesdale—does she know
see him up there? who he is?
• We know that seven years • The “A” in the sky made of
have passed since Hester crimson light—could that have
first stood up on the been the result of their
scaffold “electric chain”?
• Only two people heard • The townspeople ignorantly
translate it to be “A” for Angel
Dimmesdale’s cry —for Governor Winthrop’s soul
• Governor Winthrop had rising up to Heaven
just passed away • The glove could NOT have
• Hester, Pearl, and been Dimmesdale’s! Only
Dimmesdale form “an Satan could have put it there
electric chain”—of what? to mock the Puritan’s leader!
Chapter 13: Another View
of Hester
• Hester has lost her
beauty, for “there
seemed to be no
longer anything in
Hester’s face for Love
to dwell upon
• Hester’s “A” now
means “Able”—for she
gave so kindly to the
poor and became
• Hester makes it her
such a good listener ultimate duty
that all went to her to save Dimmesdale from
with their troubles
Chillingworth—she thinks
she
owes it to him
Chapter 14: Hester and the
Physician
• “But the former aspect of an • “Better he had died at once!”
intellectual and studious man, calm • “…A mortal man, with once a
and quiet, which was what she best human heart, has become a fiend
remembered in him, had altogether for his especial torment!”
vanished…”
• “Ever and anon, too, there came a • “Hast thou not tortured him
glare of red light out of his eyes; as if enough?”
the old man’s soul were on fire, and • “No—no! He ha but increased the
kept on smoldering duskily within his debt!”
breast…” • “There is no good for him,—no
• “In a word, old Roger Chilliingworth good for me,—no good for thee!
was a striking evidence of man’s There is no good for little Pearl!
faculty of transforming himself into a There is no path to guide us out of
devil…” this dismal maze!”
• “Your clutch is on his life, and you • “There might be good for thee, and
cause him to die daily a living death; thee alone, since thou hast been
and still he knows you not.” deeply wronged, and hast it at thy
• “But for my aid, his life would have will to pardon.”
burned away in torments, within the • “By thy first step awry thou didst
first two years after the perpetration plant the germ of evil; but since that
of his crime and thine….”
moment, it has all been a dark
necessity….It is our fate. Let the
black flower blossom as it may!”
Chapter 15: Hester and
Pearl
• Hester admits that she, • Pearl creates her own
too, hates Chillingworth letter “A” out of eel-grass
and realizes that it was and asks her mother what
he “[had] done [her] it means
worse wrong” for having • Hester realizes that Pearl,
forced her to marry him now seven, may actually
even when she had not be able to learn from her
loved him mistake if Hester teaches
her what the “A”
• Pearl is described to be symbolizes
very happy in nature, as • Pearl makes the
if she is one with it. connection between
Could it be that she is a Hester’s “A” and
product of nature rather Dimmesdale’s hand over
than sin? his heart—but does she
really know that the two
are connected?
Chapter 16: A Forest Walk
• Pearl points out to • Pearl asks Hester if Hester
Hester that the has ever met the Black
sunshine runs away Man, and Hester answers
from her mother but not that she did once—and the
scarlet letter is his mark
from her; Pearl says it is
because of the “A” on • Pearl is compared to the
brook
Hester’s bosom
• Pearl also questions
• Characterization of whether Dimmesdale has
Pearl—she is devilishly met the Black Man, and if
happy and does what that is the reason why he
she wants; she does not always covers his heart
seem to be afraid of with hand. Does she
anything know?
Chapter 17: The Pastor & His
Parishioner
• This is the first time that Hester • Dimmesdale asks Hester if she
and Dimmesdale have been has found peace? Why is this
alone in seven or more years! the first question he asks her
• It is said that they “questioned after they have become familiar
one another’s actual and bodily with each other again?
existence”—a romantic quality • When Hester finally musters the
that Hawthorne inserts for courage to tell Dimmesdale who
emotional effect. Were they Chillingworth really is, he
really standing apart a few feet blames her! WHAT IRONY!
from one another? Was it a • Hester is the man in this
dream? relationship; Dimmesdale even
• Dimmesdale’s cold hand admits that she is stronger than
touching Hester’s cold hand him—sort of like Romeo and
somehow led them “back to Juliet
earth” • Hester gives Dimmesdale hope
Chapter 18: A Flood of
Sunshine
• The cowardly and weakly • Her beauty came back
Dimmesdale is afraid to start through the “magic”
anew ALONE! (romanticism) of the
• Hester, still pathetically in past hour
love with the cowardly
minister—a leader in his • Does she regret what
community, a “godly” and she did? Has she ever
highly revered man—decides demonstrated remorse
she and Pearl will go with in any way? Why does
him she love Dimmesdale so
• Hester unclasps the scarlet much?
letter from her bosom and
threw it into the distance • Dimmesdale confesses
• The “burden of shame” was to being afraid of
lifted from her spirit— children, even Pearl
“exquisite relief” • In the last scene of the
chapter, Pearl is
described to be in one
with nature. Why is this
important?
Chapter 19: The Child at
the Brookside
• Compare the forest, as
described by
Hawthorne, to the
town
• Why do Hester and
Dimmesdale find
comfort in the forest?
Why does Pearl relate
so well with nature? Is
there a connection?
Chapter 20: The Minister in
a Maze
• Hester and Dimmesdale • Dimmesdale feels a heavy
decide to leave in four burden lifted from his soul—and
days’ time—after the he begins to think of many
sinful thoughts. Why is this
Election Sermon important?
• Dimmesdale is happy that • Name the three things he has
he can “leave” his office thought about doing that are
after the Election Sermon considered out of character for
him.
• Hester has booked
• Mistress Hibbins offers
passage to Bristol for Dimmesdale a personal
herself and two others; the introduction to her master.
captain has allowed her to • Dimmesdale gains confidence
board for her good works to tell Chillingworth that the
with the Sisters of Charity physician is no longer needed in
the minister’s home
Chapter 21: New England
Holiday
• At the start of the • At the end of the chapter,
Election Sermon and Hester receives disturbing
celebration, Hester and news that an additional
passenger has also
Pearl wait for secured passage onto the
Dimmesdale ship bound for Bristol—and
• The town is in a festive this person claims to be
mood for the “of [Hester’s] party”
inauguration of the • Will Chillingworth ever
new governor unleash his clutch on
Dimmesdale?
• Pearl notices how
strange Dimmesdale’s
physical features look
Chapter 22: The Procession
• Hester and Pearl • Hester starts to feel the
watch as Dimmesdale weight of the scarlet letter
on her bosom, again—even
and the magistrates at “its final hour”—when
walk past, and Hester she was to fling it off
feels a “dreary forever and live a new life
influence come over with her family
her”—foreshadowing • Hawthorne creates a great
contrast between the
• Dimmesdale does not minister and the wearer of
look at them—as if he the scarlet letter—even
doesn’t know them though they really are as
one
Chapter 23: The Revelation
• Dimmesdale looks like he is near • The scaffold is the only place
death; he knows it as well where Dimmesdale could
• Passing through the scaffold— have escaped from
where Hester and Pearl have Chillingworth—is it a place of
planted themselves as they punishment or redemption?
watched the magistrates pass to
the festival, Dimmesdale stops at • Dimmesdale confesses and
their side tears open his ministerial
• Alas, doing what he should have band to show his own “A”—
done seven years ago, carved in his flesh!
Dimmesdale decides to take his • Pearl’s tears broke the spell
rightful place on the scaffold that she was born with; she
• Chillingworth reacts quicky, would grow up to love and be
grabs the minister’s arm, and loved—like a normal being
questions whether it is really
something the latter wants to do • Dimmesdale gives Hester no
lie about their after-life
• Did he really love her? Or
were they destined to go
their separate ways at the
moment of their adultery?
Chapter 24: Conclusion
• Lots of satire in this chapter • The leech had nothing left to
• There are many leech on to, so he died within a
“interpretations” as to the year
death of the revered minister • Ironically, Chillingworth
– Some believe that what was bequeathed all of his treasures
told to the reader actually in both Worlds to little Pearl
happened • Hester is claimed to be the
– Others believed that the interest and love of an
scarlet letter had been a form unknown inhabitant from
of poison given to another land
Dimmesdale by Chillingworth
• Pearl is married and happy
– Yet others believed that the
“A” grew “out” of • Why do you think Hester chose
Dimmesdale’s heart and guilt to go back to the little cottage
– The ignorant ones claimed to and keep her “A” stitched to
never have seen the “A” at her clothing even after the
all, nor did they actually hear death of Dimmesdale?
a confession; they agreed that • In the end, a new grave was
the minister had claimed all made next to an old sunken
those things to make a one—yet there was a space
parable of his life! between the two, as if the two
had no right to intermingle…