The Scarlet Letter Key facts and Summary

The Scarlet Letter “A” 

(The Red or crimson color letter) 

Background of the novel 

There is a great history behind the writings of the famous novel “The Scarlet Letter”. When Nathaniel Hawthorne has been appointed, as the surveyor of the “Salem Custom House”, one day he noticed something is covered with a red cloth in the desk of Mr. Jonathon Pue who was the former surveyor of the Custom House. It was Mr. Jonathan Pue who had been written the story of a young lady named Hester to base a clue of an old man of the locality. When Nathaniel Hawthorne had got the paper it was nearly two hundred years old after the novel’s event took place.  

Key Information:  

Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864). He was born in Salem, Massachusetts. His family was the true supporter of Puritanism but he was not like that. 

Publication date of the novel: 1850   

Full title: The Scarlet Letter. 

Type of work:  Novel.  

Genre: Symbolic, semi allegorical, historical fiction and romance (in the sense that it rejects realism in favor of symbols and ideas). 

Language: English.  

Place setting:  Boston, Massachusetts. 

Time setting: middle of the seventeenth century. 

Publisher: Ticknor, Reed and Fields. (The later a key figure in the promotion of American Literature) who remain Hawthorne’s publisher for the rest of his career. 

Narrator: The narrator is most probably Mr. Jonathan Pue former surveyor of the customhouse who writes the story two hundred years after the events he describes to take place.  

Numbers of chapters: 24. 

  • Themes:  
  •  Sin 
  •  Human condition 
  • The nature of evil  
  • Identity and society  
  • Crime and punishment  
  • Passion and love 
  • Damnation  
  • Frustration of guilt  
  • Isolation  

Motifs: A decorative design or pattern of a literary work 

Civilization versus the Wilderness  

Night versus Day 

Evocative names (bringing strong image)  

Symbols:  The scarlet letter.  

                  The town scaffold  



                  The rosebush next to the prison door.  

Characters lists:    Hester Prynne  

                                Arthur Dimmesdale  

                                Governor Bellingham  

                                Roger Chillingworth  


                                Mistress Hibbins 

                                John Wilson 

Hester Prynne: she is the heroine of the novel who publicly confessed adulteress and wears the scarlet letter as her punishment.  

Arthur Dimmesdale: He is the hero of the novel. He is a moral coward who secretly confessed adulterer and punished himself in private for his sin.  

Roger Chillingworth: He has played anti role in the novel. He is Hester’s long absent husband who becomes the greatest sinner by coldly seeking revenge. 

Pearl: Pearl is the illegitimate child of Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale. She is the human embodiment of the scarlet letter and her parents’ sin.  

Governor Bellingham: Governor Bellingham is a wealthy, elderly, gentleman who spends much of his time in consulting with the other town fathers. He is the representation of the traditional English aristocrat.            

Mistress Hibbins: Mistress Hibbins is a widow lived with her brother Governor Bellingham she is commonly known as a witch and representation of the hypocrisy of the Puritan society.  

 Reverend John Wilson:  John Wilson is an elder clergyman of Boston he is scholarly yet grandfatherly and stereotypical puritan father.  

A critical summary of the novel: 

The novel “The Scarlet Letter” is a long historical and fictional romantic – tragedy.  The novel opens with the public punishment of the adulterous crime of a young woman named Hester Prynne and her three month old child Pearl. According to the Puritan law Hester has sentenced to imprison and has to grape the letter “A” in her bosom as the symbol of her sin. Though Hester has endured the public shame and extreme humiliation but she does not reveal the name of her lover or the fellow sinner. In the development of the novel, it is noticeable that after sever years of Hester’s imprisonment she gets rid from the prison but the community do not accept her usually. The community has ostracized her into the forest where Hester and her little daughter started to live. This kind of behavior of the community made Hester’s life more difficult and more complicated rest of her life. Meanwhile, the community has raised another claim that she would not bring up Pearl in that situation Hester for first time raised her voice against the law of the puritan society. And she is able to protect Pearl from the community. In her cottage, Hester had showed her own excellence on swing the cloth. It was bring degnition for Hester. Pearl had been grown up gradually and the children of the community treated Pearl badly.  The scarlet letter of Hester’s bosom is turned into Able and the positive minded people accepted Hester as a royal hearted woman.  On the other hand Hester’s lover Arthur Dimmesdale realized his fault and he wanted to confess his sin but the responsibility and the fear of public humiliation interpreted him to confess his sin to the community. Hester’s long absent husband has tried to revenge on Hester’s fellow sinner. For this reason, as a doctor he started to treat Dimmesdale and his treatment led him to death.  

Later on Hester has begun to the charitable work for the poor and the sick person of the community. Her fame has been spread all over the community. Because of her mercy she has been called as the “Sister of Mercy”.  This situation is going on some days and one day Dimmesdale and Hester got the chance to meet with each other in the forest. In that place Dimmesdale and Hester had deiced that they would go in Europe and lead a happy life but Chillingworth overheard this plan. So their plan does not work. In the third scaffold scene Arthur Dimmesdale has confessed his sin in Election Day. Arthur Dimmesdale has recognized Pearl as his daughter and denounced that Pearl would be the heir of Dimmesdale’s wealth. By saying that, Dimmesdale fall the lap of the death.  This announcement worked as the turning point of Hester and her daughter’s life. A few months later of Dimmesdale’s death, Chillingworth also died.  Later on Hester started her job as a consultant for the poor inhabitants of the colony of Boston especially for the woman. Pearl gradually grown up and at the end of the novel she got married a royal family in Europe. Finally Hester also died and she had been buried beside the grave of Dimmesdale and “A” scarlet had hanged between their grave. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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