The Scarlet Letter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

published 1850 C.E.
The photo used above was drawn by Mary Hallock Foote, who studied art in New York City. More of her illustrations, along with the entire novel, can be found here.
About the Novel
20 years after the Mayflower, the Puritans collectively inhabited what would become Boston, Massachusetts.
This is the setting for The Scarlet Letter, which was heavily influenced by the author's New England upbringing, and familial ties to early Colonial Puritans.
Nathaniel's great-great-great grandfather, William Hathorne , was a Puritan and "bitter persecutor" of Quakers who immigrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s. His great-great grandfather, John Hathorne , remorselessly acted as a Puritan judge within the Salem Witch Trials.
Who were the Puritans?
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For over a millennium, Catholicism grew to become the most followed religion in Europe. However, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed a list of objections to Catholic beliefs on a church door - officially marking the rise of Protestants.
Protestantism was a new branch of Christianity. It spread quickly, along with a violent intolerance on all sides – such as King Henry VIII (1491-1547), who cruelly persecuted Catholics, followed by Queen Mary I (1516-1558), his daughter, who then persecuted Protestants until earning the infamous nickname "Bloody Mary".
As Protestants grew, so did the Puritans – who believed that Protestantism was too lenient.
To establish Puritan communities without Christian persecution, hundreds of Puritans went overseas to settle in Massachusetts Bay Colony (1630), and Plymouth Colony (1620) - whose settlers survived by trading with the Natives nearby upon arrival.
Puritan colonies were governed by rigid laws, severe punishments, and ultra-orthodox, Christian religious principles. Similar to other religious Europeans of the time, Puritan leaders were also intolerant of differences or diversity, and became cruel to the Native communities soon after arriving.
Within Puritan society, a belief existed that each person was pre-destined for either salvation or damnation before birth. Thus, sins were considered irreversible and unforgivable, and those who sinned were seen as unavoidably wicked, while those who lived in Puritan Grace were seen as pre-ordained for salvation.
This belief heavily dictates the interactions which occur within The Scarlet Letter.

Boston, Massachusetts
1642 - 1649 C.E
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Chapter One

The Boston Gaol was Boston's first prison. It has been replaced with a new building over the years, but was once situated at 26 Court Street.

The Prison Door

The novel begins by examining the irony within the colony’s layout, which includes a prison and cemetery. This reveals that the first Puritans ultimately knew that establishing a Christian "utopia" to end human suffering was not possible.

The prison itself has an ominous, spiked wooden door with a wild rose bush growing just outside of it – symbolically showing that nature shares pity and kindness more indiscriminately than humankind.

Once the setting is described, the author then states that the roses will relieve readers of the frailty and sorrow within the oncoming story, just as they comfort prisoners who walk through the prison door.

Chapter Two

The scaffold was located at the market. According to a map from the 1640s, the market was located at the intersection of present-day State Street and Congress Street.

The Market-Place

The story begins with a crowd gathering to witness a public punishment.

Punishments within the colony are decided both legally and religiously – though the difference is miniscule. Examples include expelling people with religious differences, banishing Natives who become drunk, and persecuting people for witchcraft.

At present, the Puritan women are focused on the accused: a woman named Hester Prynne. The women believe their local Minister, Reverend Dimmesdale, is especially aggrieved by her actions since she was his congregant, and the women see her actions as a tarnish on the community. Unable to attain a death sentence, the women discuss branding Hester’s forehead, saying that whatever item she must wear for her crime will easily be covered.

Soon, Hester determinedly exits from the prison, ascends the town’s scaffold, and holds a baby over her chest while clearly hiding something with her baby. Though, Hester quickly accepts that she cannot hide either the baby or the item on her bodice - which is an elaborately embroidered letter ‘A’ made from scarlet red cloth and gold thread. The scarlet letter stands for "adulterer", and Hester is condemned to wear the scarlet letter for the rest of her life. Upon showing the letter on her bodice to the crowd, Hester can immediately feel it secluding her from society.

The women watching the punishment now grow angrier after seeing how beautifully Hester had embroidered the scarlet letter - seeing it as a mockery of the punishment. They discuss wanting to rip off the letter and her gown to replace them with unsightly alternatives.

Meanwhile, Hester is described as resembling Mother Mary with Baby Jesus. However, the crowd sternly glares instead. Hester finds their glares to be nearly unbearable and prefers mockery instead. To escape, Hester imagines reliving her memories, including her marriage to a European scholar who had a physical anomaly where one shoulder sat higher than the other. After marrying, Hester came to New England alone and found her way into her present situation - which she is just beginning to accept as being real now.

Chapter Three

The scaffold was located at the market. According to a map from the 1640s, the market was located at the intersection of present-day State Street and Congress Street.

The Recognition

At the edge of the crowd, Hester sees a Native man standing with a European who has the same shoulder anomaly as her husband. Hester quickly realizes that her husband has arrived, and he slowly sees that Hester, his wife, is being punished. He presses his finger to his lips and signals for her to not reveal his presence, then asks a spectator about what is happening.

After the husband explains his arrival and subsequent imprisonment within a Native tribe, the spectator welcomes the husband back to "European society", where “sin is searched out, and punished”. The man then explains that Hester came from Amsterdam two years ago, but her husband never followed. Now, she has had a baby with someone else and will not name the father. The husband feels frustrated with himself for not expecting this result after a two-year delay in following her, and then learns that Hester must now stand on the scaffold for 3 hours before wearing the scarlet letter for the rest of her life. The spectator also notes how unfair it is for Hester to be punished alone, though he believes the father will be found.

During this exchange, Hester reflects on how it better for her affair to be discovered by her husband in such a public way, rather than in private. The local leaders, including the Governor, Minister John Wilson, and Minister Arthur Dimmesdale, also all begin to speak.

Minister Wilson states that he pleaded for Minister Dimmesdale to force Hester to name the father for the sake of Hester's soul, to demonstrate repentance, and for Dimmesdale to uphold his responsibilities as her Minister. In response, Dimmesdale - who was formally educated in Europe, is young and well-spoken, and is viewed as pure and angelic by the community - asks Hester to name the father, arguing that the father does not deserve pity, and that naming the father would reveal his hypocrisy along with his sin. However, Hester still refuses, even when Reverend Wilson offers to remove the scarlet letter in exchange. Hester states that her child will have a “heavenly father” instead of a physical one.

Dimmesdale remarks on her generosity, puts his hand over his heart, and retreats. Then, the other local leaders begin hours of lectures on sin, which use comparisons of the scarlet letter until everyone imagines it as "flaming" and “infernal”. Hester's baby cries during the entire event.

Chapter Four

The Boston Gaol was Boston's first prison. It has been replaced with a new building over the years, but was once situated at 26 Court Street.

The Interview

Back in prison, Hester has an emotional breakdown, and a doctor is sought once it is apparent that Hester’s baby is also experiencing pain. A physician named Roger Chillingworth is brought, though it is Hester’s European husband in disguise.

Alone together, Hester mistrusts him – fearing that he will poison her baby. However, Chillingworth insists he will not, and gives a drought which helps the baby sleep. He then makes another drought for Hester while staring at her coldly. Still mistrustful, Hester says she does not want to drink poison either, though he responds that he would rather suffer her to live with the scarlet letter.

While together, Chillingworth torments Hester by frequently touching and mentioning the letter. He discusses his self-anger for thinking that she could be happy with someone who is anti-social, older, and physically different as he was. He also adds that he hoped for his intellect to maintain her loyalty and attraction. Hester then counters, saying that she always stated that she was not in love with him. However, Chillingworth stubbornly responds that he imagined his wish to find love through her would inspire her to love him back. Feeling guilty, Hester says she betrayed him, though Chillingworth says they have betrayed each other, and explains he doesn’t want vengeance from her, but from the father instead.

When Hester refuses to name the father, the husband coldly oaths to find him and not publicly identify him or kill him, but will punish the man himself instead.

Before leaving, Chillingworth makes Hester promise to not tell anyone about their relationship. Instead, he wants to assume his new identity, let the town believe that Hester’s husband is permanently gone, and avoid sharing the dishonor of her affair. Hester promises, saying she will keep his secret just as she hides the father's identity. Chillingworth smiles hideously upon hearing this answer, which makes Hester question the intention of the promise – though he assures her that the promise will not hurt her specifically.

Chapter Five

Hester's fictional cottage is described being on the west side of the colony, away from all residential properties. It sits on the coast and stares at the western-facing hills. Based on this description, and using a map from the 1640's which showed forrested terrain, the area where the fictional cottage would likely have been is highlighted in green.

Hester at Her Needle

Upon leaving prison, Hester knows the scarlet letter will bring new challenges, and that she will be seen as embodying “women’s frailty and sinful passion" as well as the sin of adultery. However, she remains in New England for various reasons. She feels rooted and reborn from her sentencing, so much that her old life now feels foreign to her. Hester is also still in love with her baby's father - who lives nearby - and she tells herself that remaining not only builds penance, but develops a new “saint-like” purity within her.

Hester moves into an abandoned cottage built on infertile soil on the edge of the colony. To earn a living, she sews garments for government officials, newborns, and funerals. Though, she is never asked to sew for a wedding due to her prior affair.

Every day, Hester is described as wearing dull, basic garments, but she sews “fanciful” and “fantastic” dresses for her daughter to wear, which give the child a more “airy charm”. She also sews for charity, with the hope of earning penance. However, sewing has become Hester's only means of expressing any, “taste for the gorgeously beautiful”.

The scarlet letter is described as having a worse effect than the mark upon Cain within The Bible. Hester is ignored in town, women treat her meanly, church ministers use her as an example during services, and children taunt her during walks. However, Hester never retorts, and sees herself as a martyr. People also occasionally look upon the letter with sympathy – as though they had a sin of their own - leading Hester believe that the letter reveals people's true hearts, and shows her that she is not the only person to sin within Puritan society. However, no matter the time of day, the letter always stands out with “red-hot with infernal fire, and could [always] be seen glowing…” To Hester, the brooch also seems to sear from her bodice.

Chapter Six

The map above shows an overlay of Boston in the 1640s.


Hester named her child Pearl since she symbolically came with a great price, which was ‘purchased’ with all that Hester had. Hester also considers Pearl to be her only treasure.

Every day, Hester worriedly watches Pearl become more wild, passionate, and dark in demeanor. She often exhibits emotions which Hester strives to suppress within herself, and has an other-worldly ability to sense important details around her. She is also incapable of sorrow, and is unadaptable to conform to the rigid Puritan society around her. For all these reasons, the children of the Colony reject Pearl, and Pearl now scorns the other children and retaliates to their instigations whenever possible.

Due to their ostracization, Hester and Pearl are always with together, though Pearl is agonizingly always interested in her mother’s scarlet letter – though Hester considers this irony to be due penance.

Compared to other Puritan families, Hester is noticeably less strict on Pearl, and Pearl is now spoken of as being a demon’s child who derived from Hester’s sin, which is still seen as a dishonor to the Puritan community.

Chapter Seven

According to a map from 1641, Governor Richard Bellingham lived in a home that sat next to Bendell's Cove - which has since been drained, built over, and no longer exists. The Governor's home at this time would have been on or near 33 Union Street.

The Governor’s Hall

One day, Hester passes by the prison while on the way to the Governor’s mansion to deliver a pair of gloves and to ask the Governor to not remove Pearl from her care - which the town has been discussing. Unhappy with Hester's parenting, the colonists have gossiped about adopting Pearl into a more orthodox Puritan family, believing that Pearl’s soul was in jeopardy by living with Hester.

Today, Pearl is dressed in a scarlet dress that is embroidered with endless gold details – transforming Hester’s daughter into a living embodiment of the scarlet letter. On their way, children attempt to throw mud at them, though Pearl chases them off and returns to her mother with a wide smile.

Once arrived, Hester encounters an indentured servant who allows her to barge into the mansion to meet with the Governor - after mistaking Hester's demeanor and scarlet letter for signs of high rank. Once inside, Hester and Pearl find a rose bush, and Pearl begins to scream when Hester refuses to pluck a blossom for her. Though, Pearl ceases when the Governor appears.

Chapter Eight

According to a map from 1641, Governor Richard Bellingham lived in a home that sat next to Bendell's Cove - which has since been drained, built over, and no longer exists. The Governor's home at this time would have been on or near 33 Union Street.

The Elf-Child and the Minister

The Governor is with three guests – Reverend John Wilson, Minister Dimmesdale, and Hester's husband Chillingworth. Chillingworth has befriended Dimmesdale over time, whose health has significantly declined since Hester's public punishment.

After Hester asks the men to leave Pearl in her care, Reverend Wilson asks Pearl if she is a Christian child, or otherworldly, like the “superstitious creatures that were thought to have been left in England.” Pearl says she is Hester’s daughter.

The men explain they were just discussing the possibility of adopting out Pearl, to which Hester assures them that she can raise Pearl herself through the shadow of the lessons gained from her scarlet letter, which could potentially make Pearl wise. After hearing her argument, the men try to test Pearl’s knowledge of Puritan beliefs and ask Pearl who had created her. Pearl responds in an otherworldly demeanor, saying that she was plucked from a wild rose bush that grew by the prison door – which she states simply because she saw the prison and rose bush before the conversation had started. However, Chillingworth smiles as the Governor expresses his belief that Pearl’s soul is at risk due to this answer and he believes that Pearl should be adopted.

Determined, Hester grabs Pearl, declaring that God had given Pearl to her, and that Pearl unavoidably helps Hester earn retribution and ponder over her sins. She then begs Dimmesdale, who was once her Minister, to speak for her. He looks troubled and saddened by the scene.

Dimmesdale explains that Pearl prevents Hester from further sin, and can create a form of repentance if raised well. Chillingworth comments on Dimmesdale’s attachment to the situation, then Pearl runs to Dimmesdale and places his hand against her cheek – which is a rare sign of affection from her. The men finally agree to leave Pearl in Hester’s care.

As Hester leaves, Mistress Hibbins – the Governor’s sister, who will later be accused of witchcraft – runs into Hester and invites her into the forest at night, stating that she promised to bring Hester to “the Black Man”. Hester rejects the offer proudly and goes home with Pearl – knowing that Pearl is the reason she was not tempted to go to “Satan’s snare”.

Chapter Nine

Reverend John Wilson was a real-life figure who preached at the First Church of Boston. The church opened its location within the colony in 1639. Today, it has been replaced with the One Boston Place skyscraper, on the west side of Washington Street.

The Leech

Chillingworth began attending Dimmesdale’s congregation soon after arriving at the colony. At the same time, Dimmesdale's health began to decline, seemingly from over-devotion to his job. The Minister was also known for his new habit of putting his hand over his heart whenever startled.

While unsuccessful in convincing Minister Dimmesdale to marry – due to his vow of celibacy - the town does convince Dimmesdale to let Chillingworth medically treat him, seeing Chillingworth as someone sent from God for exactly this purpose. Soon, Dimmesdale allows the physician to move in with him for treatments, and both men quickly take a keen interest in one another – such as Chillingworth’s interest in Dimmesdale hanging religious decor depicting David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet.

Chillingworth, meanwhile, had also changed into someone uglier and eviler since his arrival. The change became so pronounced that the town also began to wonder if Satan had come in disguise instead, to haunt the Reverend and plot against him instead rather treat him. The town watched the situation from afar, hoping that the Minister would come out glorious, but Dimmesdale only looks sadder with each passing day instead.

Chapter Ten

The map above shows an overlay of Boston in the 1640s.

The Leech and His Patient

Chillingworth was once a man of integrity, who sought the truth while making informed judgements. However, he now obsesses with digging into Dimmesdale’s conscious for secrets with no good intentions.

To others, this unhealthy dynamic would be obvious, but Dimmesdale is unable to see past his depression, which causes him view all people the same, and prevents him from examining Chillingworth as the enemy which he actually is.

One day, the two roommates discuss the idea of people who die without confessing their secrets. These people are described as cowards, who hide from their rightfully deserved shame, and hide their true, tarnished characters while falsely displaying a pure image to the public. During this discussion, they are interrupted by the sound of Pearl outside, and Hester soon appears with her. Eventually, all four notice one another, though Pearl ends the interaction by beckoning her mother away before the “Black Man” catches her, explaining in her otherworldly way that the "Black Man" has already caught the Minister.

After Hester and Pearl leave, the two men reflect on how Hester wears her sin publicly, which makes her less miserable than someone who would carry their sins in private. This exchange causes Chillingworth to ask Dimmesdale if he has told him all his grievances – saying that otherwise his treatment would be compromised from his spiritual grievances. However, Dimmesdale sternly explains that he will not confess his sins to a physician who does not deal “medicine for the soul”. He further adds that Roger should not meddle in affairs that between God and a sufferer.

At a later time, Dimmesdale falls into a deep sleep while in his study, enabling Chillingworth to physicaly examine the Minister while he is unconscious. Chillingworth finds something on Dimmesdale's chest, though it is not described. However, the discovery makes Chillingworth act excitedly and sinisterly, like Satan when “a human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom”.

Chapter Eleven

Reverend John Wilson was a real-life figure who preached at the First Church of Boston. The church opened its location within the colony in 1639. Today, it has been replaced with the One Boston Place skyscraper, on the west side of Washington Street.

The Interior of a Heart

Chillingworth continually more grows evil as he obsesses over revenge. Each day, he alters Dimmesdale’s wellbeing by instigating emotions of agony, fear, and any other feeling that creates emotional torment. Ironically, this torment makes Dimmesdale’s sermons more riveting to audiences, who relate to his eloquently conveyed sermons on pain and sin. It is also stated that if Dimmesdale was not so tormented from his own sins, then he would be considered saintly by Puritan beliefs. Though, it is clear that Dimmesdale is suffering from serious guilt over his sins - to the point that his health degrades.

Secretly, Dimmesdale also harms himself, overly fasts, and constantly holds private vigils for himself throughout the night until he hallucinates of angels, demons, or his parents haunting him. He also imagines Hester with Pearl, who points at her mother’s scarlet letter and then towards his chest.

Dimmesdale holds a deep desire to confess his sin when preaching to his congregation – though he never does.

Chapter Twelve

The scaffold was located at the market. According to a map from the 1640s, the market was located at the intersection of present-day State Street and Congress Street.

The Minister’s Vigil

Dimmesdale ascends the town’s scaffold late one night while the colony sleeps. He shrieks, thinking the town will awaken and find him on the scaffold. However, only two people appear before retreating without seeing him.

Soon, Minister Wilson appears, returning home from assisting at a deathbed. Dimmesdale daydreams of announcing his presence, but remains quiet and surprised by his own instincts to reveal that he is standing on the scaffold. As he grows colder from the night and more paranoid, Hester then appears with Pearl, also coming from the deathbed, to take measurements for funeral robes.

Dimmesdale now reveals himself and beckons Hester and Pearl to join him on the scaffold. Once together, he takes Pearl’s hand and feels a rush of joy. However, Pearl asks if he will stand with her and her mother tomorrow during the day, on the same scaffold, in front of the town. He refuses, which leads Pearl to try and remove her hand – though he refuses to let go. Pearl then repeats her question, and he says he will stand with them on “the great judgement day”. A meteor then crosses the sky, creating a dull red letter "A" in the sky.

Together on the scaffold, with Dimmesdale holding his chest and Hester wearing her letter, as well as Pearl between them, Pearl begins to point in the distance at Chillingworth, who is watching them. This scares Dimmesdale, who asks Hester if she knows the man. Rather than answer, Pearl interjects and lectures him, saying he is not “bold” or “true”.

As this happens, Chillingworth nears and reveals himself, explaining that he was also returning from the deathbed as an attending physician. He encourages Dimmesdale to return home with him, and Dimmesdale agrees and descends from the scaffold.

The next day, Dimmesdale gives a passionate sermon. Though after the service finishes, a man returns Dimmesdale's glove to him, saying that he found it on the scaffold - though the man believes the glove was left by Satan, and not by Dimmesdale.

Chapter Thirteen

The map above shows an overlay of Boston in the 1640s.

Another View of Hester

After 7 years, Hester is shocked by how emotionally and physically destroyed Dimmesdale had appeared on the scaffold, even though he is still intellectually sharp and creates gripping sermons. She now feels a responsibility to help him.

Over time, Hester’s charity has led the Puritans to sympathize for her, and colonists now say that the scarlet letter represents “Able” instead of “Adulterer”. However, Hester doesn’t feel that she deserves the growing kindness.

The letter had also withered away what was left of Hester’s old personality: her hair now hides in a cap, she wears plain clothing, and her confidence has changed into humility. Meanwhile, Pearl has continually grown stranger by the day, in her own otherworldly way. For years, Hester regularly wondered whether Pearl was supposed to exist, and wondered the same for womenkind in general. She pondered over what would be needed to finally allow women to be equal to men in society, and found herself experiencing suicidal urges. However, after the night on the scaffold with Dimmesdale, she now feels new purpose in rescuing Dimmesdale from Chillingworth - her European husband, who clearly knows that Dimmesdale is the father of her child.

Hester also grows angry with herself, realizing she condemned Dimmesdale to torment by not revealing Chillingworth's true identity. However, she acknowledges that she no longer feels obligated to uphold her promise, thanks to her achieved growth over the years, while Dimmesdale has only fallen in demise.

Chapter Fourteen

Based on a map from the 1775, the map above shows where the heavily forested areas which lied outside of the colony were.

Hester and the Physician.

Hester sees the Chillingworth foraging for herbs, and asks Pearl to play nearby while she speaks him. He is no longer calm or quiet, but fierce, eager, and guarded with a searing gaze - becoming an example of someone turning themselves into the devil.

Hester explains her intention to break her promise due to her duty for Dimmesdale, and to end the anguish that Chillingworth is clearly putting him through. However, Chillingworth gaslights Hester, claiming he does not know what she means, and asks for more specific examples. He also states that he is treating the Minister as any physician would, and adds that Dimmesdale lacks the strength which Hester has.

After Chillingworth says his treatments are the only reason that Dimmesdale is alive, Hester responds that it would have been better for Dimmesdale to die than to suffer and believe his torment is God-given, rather than the actions of his worst enemy. She also adds that Chillingworth was once human, but has become a fiend.

Chillingworth takes a second to comprehend his new characterization and reputation, then responds that the torment will not only continue, but grow. Hester then blames herself for everyone's pain, and asks why he will not torment her instead. Though he answers that the scarlet letter is avenging his pain already.

After stating that she will tell the truth to Dimmesdale, Chillingworth says that he does not care, and foreshadows that their destinies are set, adding that all the good within her has been wasted due to this inevitable destiny. Hester then retorts that his traits have also been wasted as well, since became so evil.

Chapter Fifteen

Based on a map from the 1775, the map above shows the greater area around the colony. This ifctional scene could have occurred anywhere where there was a nearby coast tot he colony.

Hester and Pearl

It is noted that sunlight never falls on Chillingworth, who travels with a seemingly unavoidable shadow.

Hester also now finally acknowledges her hatred for Chillingworth, feeling disgust that they married – deeming it her worst crime. She despises that he convinced her that they could be happy together, and says his actions since have been a betrayal. She also believes his sins to be worse than her affair – which resulted from finding love, rather than occurring from hate. She also wonders if she has accumulated penance after seven years of wearing the scarlet letter.

Meanwhile, Pearl is playing nearby and has taken some seaweed from the ocean and fashioned it into a letter "A" on her own chest. Pearl wants to understand the scarlet letter's significance, which is still unknown to her.

Hester sees the seaweed letter on her daughter's chest and asks Pearl if she knows why her mother must wear the scarlet letter. Pearl responds, in her otherworldly way, that it is the same reason the Minister keeps his hand on his chest.

For a second, Hester wants to tell Pearl everything, and finally have someone to confide in. Though she decides not to, realizing that Pearl must experience sorrow in a different way to develop empathy. Instead, she tells Pearl that she wears the scarlet letter for the gold thread details. It is the first time she has ever lied about why she wears the scarlet letter, though Pearl doesn’t believe the answer and continues to endlessly ask about its significance well into the next morning.

Chapter Sixteen

Based on a map from the 1775, the map above shows where Stony Brook once ran, and marks the heavily forested areas which lied outside of the colony. The marked location is where this fictional scene likely would have occurred.

A Forest Walk

Hester begins regularly walking in the forest, in hopes of running into Dimmesdale to warn him about Chillingworth. Rather than visiting Dimmesdale at his study, Hester wants to ensure they will be alone to avoid interruptions and have the opportunity to be themselves without others watching. Today, she knows Dimmesdale will be returning home after visiting to local group of Native converts.

As Pearl and Hester walk, the forest grows cold and somber. At times, the sun appears, though never near Hester. Pearl notices and says the sunlight is avoiding Hester's scarlet letter. To help, she decides to catch the sunlight to share it with her mother, believing it will stay for her because she does not wear a letter. As Pearl begins to play in the sun and seemingly catch the light, Hester tries to join, but the sun vanishes whenever she nears.

While watching Pearl, Hester reflects on Pearl's inability to feel sorrow, which has prevented her from developing or showing sympathy for people or sad situations. However, Hester knows that Pearl has time to experience sorrow and develop this capability.

While waiting, Pearl asks to hear a story which she heard from Mistress Hibbins, about an “ugly black man” who offers a book and iron pen in the forest. Pearl says that people sign the book in blood and then receive his mark on their chest, which glows flamelike as people return to him at midnight. In response, Hester says she has met the man, and the scarlet letter is his mark.

As they speak, the forest becomes gloomy, which frustrates Pearl, who thinks the forest should be cheery. However, the Minister soon appears, with his hand over his chest, and Hester asks Pearl to go play nearby and wait to be called back. Before leaving, Pearl asks her mom if the Minister has the mark on his chest, but does not show it. Avoiding the question, Hester tells the child to run and play instead.

Chapter Seventeen

Based on a map from the 1775, the map above shows where Stony Brook once ran, and marks the heavily forested areas which lied outside of the colony. The marked location is where this fictional meeting between Hester and Dimmesdale likely would have occurred.

The Pastor and His Parishioner

Hester beckons Dimmesdale into the forest, where they ask one another if they are at peace. Dimmesdale explains he is not, due to guilt from his religious beliefs. Hester retorts that everyone admires him, though he says this only brings him more misery. Believing That Dimmesdale has already repented, Hester says his current life is just as holy as it was before their affair. However, Dimmesdale responds that he regrets not leaving his position or revealing himself to be Pearl’s father. He also voices that he thinks Hester was fortunate to have her sin known through the scarlet letter, rather than have it burn in secret as he does. After expressing his wish that someone else knew of his secret, to minimize his feelings of hypocrisy, Hester reveals that Chillingworth does already know, and she reveals his identity.

Hester feels guilt knowing that Chillingworth used his title as a physician to torment Dimmesdale – whom she still loves. She prefers death over explaining her part in the farce, and begs for forgiveness after revealing the truth. Though Dimmesdale refuses to forgive her, and grows angry with himself, knowing he should have recognized the physician’s true intentions.

Hester suddently dreads seeing Dimmesdale's face in a frown, since he was the only person who had never frowned at her. Hester continues to ask for forgiveness, and he soon calms and forgives her, stating that they are not the worst sinners in the world and that Chillingworth had sinned worse than they had. Hester then assures Dimmesdale that Chillingworth will not reveal their secret, but adds that Dimmesdale must stop residing with him. In response, Dimmesdale acts helpless and says he can’t leave, causing Hester to tell him that he must grow stronger.

As Dimmesdale begs Hester for a solution, she states that they should run away together. Though, Dimmesdale says it is his destiny to stay. However, Hester insists this is not true, and that he can be the person he was born to be, rather than the person he became since their affair. Suddenly, the Minister feels hope, and begins to agree to her idea with enthusiasm.

Chapter Eighteen

Based on a map from the 1775, the map above shows where Stony Brook once ran, and marks the heavily forested areas which lied outside of the colony. The marked location is where this fictional meeting between Hester and Dimmesdale likely would have occurred.

18. A Flood of Sunshine

Dimmesdale feels a mix of fear, joy, and admiration towards Hester for saying what he secretly desires but won’t allow himself to even think. He analyzes how her seclusion has allowed her to become independent and unafraid of the community’s standards, while he has been stuck in the middle of every Puritan norm, prejudice, and regulation that is demanded from a Minister. He also reflects on how guilt can damage the soul of a person beyond repair.

However, for the first time in seven years, Dimmesdale now feels hope and freedom, and acknowledges that he wants to spend his life with Hester, who he compares to an angel.

To signal and prove that the past is behind them, Hester now pulls off the scarlet letter, throws it away, lets down her hair, and feels her youth, appeal, and confidence return. The sun then finally shines of her, and the forest changes from somber to cheerful.

In excitement, Hester begins to call over Pearl, to introduce her to the Minister, who is her father. The Minister become nervous of this, and warns Hester that children don’t usually enjoy his company. However, Hester assures him that everything will work out, and continues to beckon Pearl, who is playing in the sunlight – looking otherworldly.

As Pearl comes, she nears slowly upon seeing the Minister.

Chapter Nineteen

Based on a map from the 1775, the map above shows where Stony Brook once ran, and marks the heavily forested areas which lied outside of the colony. The marked location is where this fictional meeting between Hester and Dimmesdale likely would have occurred.

The Child at the Brook-Side

Hester beckons Pearl as Dimmesdale reflects on the only two moments he interacted with her – at the Governor’s mansion when she showed him affection, and the night on the scaffold.

When Pearl nears, she refuses to cross the brook separating them, emitting an otherworldly peculiarity that injects fear into the situation. As she stares and wonders what their relation to one another is, Dimmesdale watches Pearl look between him and his hand on his chest. Pearl then raises her hand to point at her mother’s chest with a frightening frown. Once Pearl starts stomping in place, Hester then grows stern, which results in Pearl having a shrieking temper tantrum – all while she continues to point at her mother’s chest. Hester realizes that the missing scarlet letter is the cause, and the Minister asks Hester to end the tantrum by any means.

Hester sighs and asks Pearl to bring the letter, but Pearl demands Hester to pick it up herself. Hester obliges, seeing the request as penance, but daydreams of throwing it into the ocean. However, she feels doomed while placing it back on – as though she reassumed her destiny of penance. As she hides her hair, her youth and joy also dissipate, along with the sun that briefly shined on her. Pearl then crosses the brook, saying Hester is now the mother she knows, and gives a rare affectionate kiss before kissing the scarlet letter as well. Hester berates Pearl for this cruel gesture, but Pearl ignores her and asks why the Minister is there.

Hester asks Pearl to show Dimmesdale affection, but Pearl asks if he will love them back and return to town with them. Hester says they will not return together, but will in the future, adding that she loves the Minister and hopes Pearl will too. Pearl then asks if he will always hold his hand on his chest, which further irritates Hester. Unknowningly to both Hester and Pearl, this is Pearl's first time experiencing jealousy, since she has never had to share her mother's affection or attention before.

The Minister finally tries to kiss Pearl, though Pearl rejects the gesture and runs to the brook to wash away the kiss. After, she doesn’t return and watches Hester and Dimmesdale from a distance.

Chapter Twenty

The map above shows an overlay of Boston in the 1640s.

The Minister in a Maze

Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale return to the colony, though not together.

Back in the forest, Dimmesdale and Hester had agreed to move to a European city – since he was not strong enough for a rural lifestyle, and was more comfortable in developed cities with societal norms and standards. They agreed to leave by ship, and that Hester would speak with a captain she is acquainted with from her charity work. They will leave in 4 days, after Dimmesdale delivers a final sermon on Election Day, and Dimmesdale is happy to know that he will be remembered for finishing his duties appropriately.

Dimmesdale walks noticeably more energetic, and feels that he is looking at life through new eyes. However, he also begins feeling impulses to commit sinful acts against people around him. He fears these new impulses, but also finds an odd humor within them. This causes him to wonder if they come from unknowingly agreeing to a wicked oath while in the forest.

Mistress Hibbins now nears and remarks on his visit in the forest, though Dimmesdale insists that he went with Puritan intentions. However, she ignores this response and says that they will meet in the forest together at midnight. After she leaves, Dimmesdale questions if he has “sold” himself to the devil, and grows angry at himself for being tempted by happiness when he knew his soul was tainted by the “poison” of sin.

At home, Chillingworth arrives and offers his medical services in preparation for the Election Sermon, though Dimmesdale rejects the offer and says he will no longer need any medical assistance – knowing that Chillingworth is actually his “bitterest enemy”. Chillingworth insists on services, saying that Dimmesdale may not live past another year. Though Dimmesdale replies that his death would only lead into another - hopefully better - world.

After Chillingworth leaves, Dimmesdale vivaciously begins to write a new sermon after throwing his old one into the fire.

Chapter Twenty-One

According to a map from the 1640s, the market was located at the intersection of present-day State Street and Congress Street.

The New England Holiday

Hester and Pearl arrive at the market on Election Day, and Hester feels and extra sense of celebration - along with guilt - since this will be the last time anyone will see the scarlet letter or view her as a lifelong victim of its sentence.

Pearl is also very excited, to the point that she almost emulates the hidden emotions which Hester is trying to hide. Pearl asks and learns about the celebration, and oddly remarks that the ugly black man should not nod at her if he attends. However, Pearl that the black man may nod at Hester, because she wears the scarlet letter and grey clothing.

Hester explains that a procession with the Minister will occur, causing Pearl to ask if he will reach out for them as he passes by. Hester says he will not, and adds that Pearl should not greet him either. Pearl then calls Dimmesdale “a strange, sad man” who will only hold them, love them, and beckon them at night or in a forest, but ignores them during the day while expecting them to do the same back. This causes Hester to try and end the conversation, and she tells Pearl that she does not understand how things are.

As they wait, the crowd is described as only slightly less somber than usual. The celebrations include no music, entertainment, or singing due to the disciplines and laws of the colony, which are described as being enabled solely due to the mutual sentiment felt within the community. However, within the crowd, visiting sailors are celebrating more liberally by committing acts normally forbidden to Puritans, such as drinking from flasks and smoking tobacco.

Hester soon sees the captain she had already spoken with - and he is currently speaking to Chillingworth. After the two men separate, the captain walks to Hester and states that the ship will be free of outbreaks thanks to a physician who will join: Chillingworth, who claimed to be traveling within Hester’s party and to be a close friend of Dimmesdale’s. Chillingworth smiles at Hester from a distance while the captain reveals this information.

Chapter Twenty-two

The scaffold was located at the market. According to a map from the 1640s, the market was located at the intersection of present-day State Street and Congress Street. The church, which opened its location within the colony in 1639, was facing the market. Today, the church has been replaced with the One Boston Place skyscraper, on the west side of Washington Street.

The Procession

Before Hester can evaluate the new information given by the captain, the procession music begins and the local leaders pass by - including the Minister, who is noticeably energetic. Hester’s mood, however, begins to change as he passes by her without even one glance. Even though they felt close to one another in the forest, he now seems distant, proud, and unattainable. She even believes their bond is not real, and feels incapable of forgiving him for the distance she now feels.

After he passes by, Pearl asks if he is the same man who kissed her in the forest. Hester says to not speak about this publicly, but Pearl continues and says he looked different, and that she would ask him for a kiss if he did not look so different now. Pearl than also asks what the Minister would have done if she asked for a kiss, and Hester replies that it was not an appropriate time to ask for a kiss.

Mistress Hibbins now runs into Hester, and states that the Minister is no longer the same man who left the forest with her. Hester denies meeting Dimmesdale in the forest, though Hibbins ignores the remark, and says that Hester wears her mark openly, while the Minister hides his. She also foretells that Dimmesdale’s bond to his "mark" will force him to reveal his true self to the public. Pearl takes interest in this conversation, and Hibbins then tells Pearl that she will see the mark soon.

As everyone settles to hear Dimmesdale’s sermon, Hester stands next to the scaffold to listen from outside. She is moved by the sermon, which is inspired by feelings of complaint, guilt, sorrow, the desire to tell a secret, and beseeching for sympathy and forgiveness. As Hester listens, Pearl runs around the market and encounters a sailor who asks her to give a message to her mother: that the accompanying physician has told the crew he will board the ship with Dimmesdale himself, so Hester should only worry about boarding with Pearl. Pearl relays the message, which dampens Hester's sprits and forces her to notice everyone around her who is not from the area - all of which seem to be looking directly at her scarlet letter rudely. Hester suddently sees that Dimmesdale is viewed as saintly from his pillared, while Hester wears her scarlet letter next to the scaffold. Ironically, no one would fathom that they were both involved in the affair.

Chapter Twenty-three

The scaffold was located at the market. According to a map from the 1640s, the market was located at the intersection of present-day State Street and Congress Street.

The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter

The crowd returns outside, expressing admiration for the service, which included Dimmesdale's best sermon yet. The crowd attributes the speech to his short time remaining to live.

The Minister now emerges, clearly in his life’s proudest moment. Hester, meanwhile, is alone by the scaffold – feeling the scarlet letter burn against her chest.

The music for the procession starts again to escort the leaders to a banquet, and the crowd continues to admire Dimmesdale, however his disposition suddenly looks deathlike. Minister Wilson notices and offers help, though Dimmesdale insists on walking alone with a weak gait.

When he nears the scaffold and sees Hester, the scarlet letter, and Pearl, he stops and pauses before leaving the procession to walk to the scaffold. There, he beckons Hester and Pearl, weakly with underlying triumph. As they unite, Chillingworth emerges and grabs Dimmesdale, telling him to cast Hester and Pearl away to preserve his reputation, though Dimmesdale tells him that he is too late, and that he is ready to end Chillingworth’s torment.

Dimmesdale asks Hester to help support him up the scaffold's stairs, and the crowd watches silently with shock as Dimmesdale ascends and begins to admit his secret to the crowd. While confessing, he takes a brief pause and asks Hester if this is better than what they had dreamed in the forest, to which she replies that she does not know. Dimmesdale then finishes his confessesing with Hester and Pearl nearby. He praises Hester, and says that everyone has a scarlet letter of their own, even though theirs is hidden. He adds that the devil helped hide his sin, which allowed him to walk in praise. He then tears off his ministerial band, opens his shirt, and reveals his chest in triumph while the physician falls beside him in defeat. Dimmesdale then asks Pearl for a kiss, who is suddenly overcome with grief for the first time in her life. She walks over and kisses him on the cheek, and it is inferred that Pearl’s time anguishing her mother into penance over the scarlet letter will now be over.

Dimmesdale falls, says goodbye to Hester, and tells her to focus on their mutual sin instead of pondering if they will meet again in the afterlife, believing it was vain hope for them to believe they would meet in an “everlasting and pure reunion”. He gives a final praise for God's will, which he says is now finished, then dies on the scaffold.

Chapter Twenty-four

Hester's fictional cottage is described being on the west side of the colony, away from all residential properties. It sits on the coast and stares at the western-facing hills. Based on this description, and using a map from the 1640's which showed forrested terrain, the area where the fictional cottage would likely have been is highlighted in green.


The story never reveals what was on Dimmesdale’s chest. Some say it was a letter "A" imprinted from self-mutilation, others claim the physician caused it to appear, and some say the mark appeared from Dimmesdale’s guilt causing it to manifest. Others deny that any mark existed at all.

The town believed Dimmesdale had made his death a final parable to show how all people are sinners alike. Though, Dimmesdale’s story is described as actually revealing the stubborn characteristic of people to uphold certain people's character - even after they are proven to be false. However, it is revealed that the most important lesson to gain from the novel is “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!”

It is described that after losing his life’s purpose - to seek revenge - Chillingworth died just one year later and left a large amount of property to Pearl – making Pearl the richest heiress of the colonies at the time, and instantly changing Pearl’s status within Puritan society. Hester and Pearl then left New England, and the scarlet letter grew to be known as a legend. Yet years later, Hester returned to her cottage without Pearl, and began to wear the scarlet letter again.

In the cottage, Hester surrounded herself with expensive items that she never used, and sewed baby’s clothing for what was assumed to be Pearl’s own family. Pearl would have happily allowed Hester to live with her, though Hester chose to return to New England instead - where her sin, sorrow, and penitence remained even though the scarlet letter had lost its stigma and was now converted into a symbol that elicited sorrow, awe, and even reverence among the colonists.

Before passing away, Hester became sure that future men and women would reach a new level of mutual happiness, and her character was described as being buried in King Chapel, next to Dimmesdale. They each lay in separate graves, but share a single engraved headstone:

“sable” = pitch black
“gules” = red

The description on the tombstone portrays a somber, pitch black background that is contrasted by a red glow. On the surface, it looks like Hester and Dimmesdale are buried with their sin, however it is significant that Hester and the Minister are buried together, under the scarlet letter as equals. The symbol represents them each in their own way.