A Review Of The Scarlet Letter Essay
, Research Paper
A Review of the Scarlet Letter
The novel opens with an explanation of how the romance of The Scarlet Letter came to be presented as a story in its existing form. Having always wanted to be a literary man , Nathaniel Hawthorne talks about his three-year stint as a Surveyor in the Salem Custom House. Mostly filled with older gentlemen, the workplace was a very political, Whig-influenced environment and charged with Puritan history. After brief character sketches of the personalities in the Custom House, Hawthorne then explains how he came upon a special package among the piles of papers. It contained a red cloth with the letter A embroidered in gold thread and a manuscript by Jonathan Pue (the man who once held Hawthorne s job). Finding the story extremely interesting, the author thus retells the story of Hester Prynne from Massachusetts s Puritan history.
The first chapter begins with Hester being led to the scaffold where she is to be publicly shamed for having committed adultery. Hester is forced to wear the letter A on her gown at all times as punishment for her crime. She has stitched a large scarlet A onto her dress with gold thread, giving the letter an air of elegance. Hester carries Pearl, her daughter, with her. On the scaffold she is asked to reveal the name of Pearl s father, but she refuses. In the crowd, Hester recognizes her husband from Amsterdam, Roger Chillingworth.
Chillingworth visits Hester after she is returned to the prison. He tells her that he will find out who the man was, and that he will read the truth on the man s heart. He then forces her to promise never to reveal his own identity to anyone else.
Hester moves into a cottage bordering the woods. She and Pearl live there in relative solitude. Hester earns her money by doing stitchwork for local dignitaries, but often spends her time helping the poor and sick. Pearl grows up to be wild, in the sense that she refuses to obey her mother.
Roger Chillingworth earns a reputation as being a good physician. He uses his reputation to get transferred into the same home as Arthur Dimmesdale, an ailing minister. Chillingworth eventually discovers that Dimmesdale is the true father of Pearl, at which point he spends every moment trying to torment the minister.
One night Dimmesdale is so overcome with shame about hiding his secret that he walks to the scaffold where Hester was publicly humiliated. He stands on the scaffold and imagines the whole town watching him with a letter emblazoned on his chest. While standing there, Hester and Pearl arrive. He asks them to stand with him, which they do. Pearl then asks him to stand with her the next day at noon.
When a meteor illuminates the three people standing on the scaffold, they see Roger Chillingworth watching them. Dimmesdale tells Hester that he is terrified of Chillingworth, who offers to take Dimmesdale home. Hester realizes that Chillingworth is slowly killing Dimmesdale, and that she has to help him.
A few weeks later, Hester sees Chillingworth picking herbs in the woods. She tells him that she is going to reveal the fact that he is her husband to Dimmesdale. He tells her that Providence is now in charge of their fates, and that she may do as she sees fit.
Hester takes Pearl into the woods where they wait for Dimmesdale to arrive. He is surprised to see them, but confesses to Hester that he is desperate for a friend who knows his secret. She comforts him and tells him Chillingworth s true identity. He is furious, but allows her to convince him that they should run away together. He finally agrees, and the decision fills him with a sense of freedom from this place of torture. By creating hopes for the future, he relinquishes his suffering from his guilty conscience.
When Dimmesdale returns to town from the forest, he is not sure that the recent event with Hester and Pearl was real. But seeing them revives his dreams of a better future together. Their meeting has changed him; he sees everything differently. Suddenly he feels the freedom to do things that he would never have done before. He meets several people along the way home to whom he has impulses to do and say evil things. The first person he meets is one of the oldest deacons of his congregation. He is tempted to say blasphemous things about the Communion Supper, one of the most sacred Puritan rites. But he restrains himself and continues onward to meet the eldest female member of his church. He again is tempted to shock her with an unanswerable argument against the immortality of the human soul. The next person he meets is the youngest female member of his parish. He has to restrain himself from whispering evil things that might mislead her. Next, he meets a group of young Puritan children. He must stop himself from teaching them “evil words. He walks onward and meets a drunken seaman from the ship on which he will sail. He wants to greet the sailor and preach to him, but again he restrains himself. The last person he meets is Mistress Hibbins. She wants to know if he had been with the Black Man in the forest. Dimmesdale responds that he was with his friend, Apostle Eliot, but she does not believe him.
Dimmesdale arrives home and realizes his house looks strange and different. Moments later, Chillingsworth arrives at his door asking about his health. The minister informs the physician that he no longer needs his medical drugs. His tone of voice tells the old man that he is no longer a trusted friend but is now his bitterest enemy. After Chillingsworth leaves, Dimmesdale composes an inspired sermon for the Election Sermon.
Hester finds a ship that will carry all three of them to the Old World, and it comes to pass that the ship is due to sail the day after Dimmesdale gives his Election Sermon. However, during the day of the sermon, Chillingworth gets the ship s captain to agree to take him on board as well. Hester does not know how to get out of this dilemma.
Dimmesdale gives his Election Sermon, and it receives the highest praise of any preaching he has ever performed. He then unexpectedly walks to the scaffold and stands on it, in full view of the gathered masses. Dimmesdale calls Hester and Pearl to come to him. Chillingworth tries to stop him, but Dimmesdale laughs and tells him that he cannot win.
Hester and Pearl join Dimmesdale on the scaffold. Dimmesdale then tells the people that he is also a sinner like Hester, and that he should have assumed his rightful place by her side over seven years earlier. He then rips open his shirt to reveal a scarlet letter on his flesh. Dimmesdale falls to his knees and dies while on the scaffold.
Hester and Pearl leave the town for awhile, and several years later Hester returns. No one hears from Pearl again, but it is assumed that she gets married and has children in Europe. Hester never removes her scarlet letter, and when she passes away she is buried in the King s Chapel.