The Scarlet Letter Summary

Key Facts

Writer: Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64)

Written Time: 1848-50

Published date: 1850

Genre: Historical fiction

Meaning of the Title: The Scarlet Letter means the deep red color letter. And “A” stands for Adultery. That is, in the Puritan society, when someone committed adultery, the punishment for adultery was written on his chest with the letter “A” enlarged in red ink.

Themes: 1) Identity and Society 2) Female independence 3) Guilt 4) Nature versus Society 5) Empathy

Setting: Time Setting: Boston in the 1600s

Place Setting: Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Hester Prynne: Protagonist and wearer of the Scarlet Letter

Arthur Dimmesdale: Puritan minister in Boston

Pearl: Illicit daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale

Roger Chillingworth: Hester’s aged husband. Real name is Prynne.

Governor Billingham: Former governor of Boston

Mistress Hibbins: Billingham’s sister. Symbol of evil.

John Wilson: Boston’s elder clergyman.


At this time in 1640, the American city of Boston was occupied by the Puritans. They were working to enforce religious discipline in all spheres, from state to society. Puritans were strictly religious. Their motto was four,

  • Only for God
  • Only for God’s grace
  • Only for Bible
  • Only for Jesus Christ

The Church of England was established during the Elizabethan period. They were called Anglicans. And from this American belief arose a kind of Extremist religious belief called Puritans. John Milton was a Puritan. Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up in a Puritan family. However, he was highly critical of the Extremist Puritans. In this novel, he highlights the corruption and character traits of those associated with the Puritan Church in particular.


So we can easily understand this novle The Scarlet Letter in only 9 stages.

1. The source of this novel

2. First scaffold scene

3. Roger Chillingworth’s meeting with Hester

4. Attempts to separate Pearl from Hester

5. Dimmesdale’s mental turmoil and perception of truth by Roger Chillingworth

6. Repentance for Dimmesdale’s sins / Second Scaffold scene

7. Dimmesdale and Hester plan to escape to Europe

8. Third scaffold scene

9. The end of Hester and Pearl

1. The source of this novel

The narrator of this novel is not actually named. But he was a custom house surveyor in Salem village. So while rummaging through old office papers, he found some documents. There was a manuscript, wrapped in red cloth. And above it was written the letter “A”. Actually a surveyor wrote this book 100 years before the current surveyor, whose name was Jonathan Pue. Then the narrator once lost this manuscript and decided to write about a similar incident. And that is what this novel The Scarlet Letter is all about. In fact Nathaniel Hawthorne was a surveyor himself. So this incident is actually his autobiographical element.

2. First scaffold scene

  • Standing on Hester’s Scaffold

So the event happened at the beginning of the seventeenth century. There was a woman named Hester Prynne, being brought out of prison. She holds her baby daughter Pearl in one hand. And the letter “A” is written in a deep red color on the cloth above her chest. Hester Prynne saw the scaffold that had been erected for her punishment, surrounded by excited people. They are here to see the punishment of an adulterer.

  • One’s description of Hester’s sin

One of them tells to an older man that Hester is being punished for committing adultery. It is said about her husband that her husband was much older than her in age. And after marriage, her husband sent Hester to Boston, America. But her husband never came. Maybe he died at sea. Hester does not see Hester’s husband for three years. In the meantime, Hester had an illicit affair and gave birth to a bastard child, named Pearl.

First she was repeatedly asked the name of her lover. But she said nothing. So she was kept in jail. And today she was brought here to be punished. But the name of her lover is not known yet. And that’s why the scarlet letter “A” (Adultery) has been written on her chest. She has to carry this scarlet letter “A” for the rest of her life. And now she was brought out for three hours. In these three hours, people will say a lot of bad things about her.

  • Inquiring about Hester’s lover by the Church Fathers

There are two church fathers asking Hester, who is the father of her illegitimate daughter? One of them was named Dimmesdale. He is Hester’s lover and the father of her illegitimate daughter Pearl. But Dimmesdale had already told Hester not to disclose his name.

  • The identity of Hester’s husband

Then Hester looked ahead. Her eyes stuck in one place. She saw her lost husband, Roger Chillingworth, standing there. Roger Chillingworth is currently working as a doctor. His reputation has spread widely in this work. In fact, during his absence for so long, he gained extensive knowledge in medicine. And the new name is Roger Chillingworth. Actually his previous name was Prynne. He settles in Boston, to punish Hester’s lover. So Roger Chillingworth thought to himself, he will punish Hester’s illegal lover . So he goes to see Hester.

3. Roger Chillingworth’s meeting with Hester

So one day Hester’s daughter Pearl fell ill. So Roger Chillingworth goes to the prison as a doctor to treat Pearl. There he asks Hester about Pearl’s father. But Hester says nothing to him. As Hester does not say anything, Roger Chillingworth tells her, You shall not reveal my identity to anyone. That is, he is forbidding anyone to identify him as Hester’s husband. If Hester reveals Roger Chillingworth’s true identity, he threatens to find out Hester’s lover and reveal his name to everyone. And he will also face punishment. Hester then promises Roger Chillingworth that she will not tell anyone about Roger Chillingworth’s true identity.

4. Attempts to separate Pearl from Hester

A long day passed like this. Hester is currently supporting herself and her daughter by working as a tailor. Pearl is almost grown up now. Hester was cut off from society for her adultery and lived in a small cottage on the edge of town. Pearl was a bit mischievous. So the society thought that since Hester was an adulteress herself, Pearl would be spoiled by her. So they wanted to separate Pearl from Hester. It was very heartbreaking for Hester. So she went to the Governor, the Father of the Church and her lover Dimmesdale. And she told Dimmesdale that if Pearl wasn’t allowed to stay with her, she would tell everyone the truth. Then the young priest Dimmesdale was afraid and told the governor that Pearl should be allowed to stay with Hester. At Dimmesdale’s request, the Governor allows Pearl to stay with Hester.

5. Dimmesdale’s mental turmoil and perception of truth by Roger Chillingworth

A few days later, Dimmesdale became very ill. He faces heart problems. In fact,  he falls into such a condition due to excessive anxiety. Roger Chillingworth is called in to treat Dimmesdale. As Dimmesdale was very ill, Roger Chillingworth began to stay at his house 24 hours a day. At one point Roger Chillingworth suspects that Dimmesdale is stressing about something extra. Here he finds a link to Dimmesdale’s excess tension and Hester’s unspoken lover. So he began to question Dimmsdale in a variety of ways to uncover the truth. In short, Dimmesdale began to suffer more and more mentally.

So one-afternoon Dimmesdale was sleeping. Then Roger Chillingworth saw a scarlet letter A on his chest. But it is not known when this letter was written on his chest. Roger Chillingworth then confirms that Dimmesdale is Hester’s lover and Pearl’s father. Day by day, Dimmesdale’s anxiety increased and his physical condition worsened. Although Dimmesdale had sinned, he was a Puritan priest. So he was regretting it again and again. He wondered how much Hester was suffering alone for the same crime, but Dimmesdale went unpunished. Hester lives alone as a social outcast due to the crime of adultery, yet she is the first to come forward and help people in danger. So everyone forgot about her adultery and started loving her. And the scarlet letter “A” written on her chest has now become a symbol not of sin but of love.

6. Repentance for Dimmesdale’s sins / Second Scaffold scene

A few more days passed like this. Pearl is now seven years old. One night Hester was walking through town. Then she suddenly saw Dimmesdale standing on the Scaffold where she had to stand one day. In fact, Dimmesdale would sometimes go there in the middle of the night and cry. Yet he did not dare to tell anyone about his sin. So seeing Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl went up to him and took his hand. A meteorite flew into the night sky. And it was written A. That is, it reminded Dimmesdale that he had committed adultery but was not yet punished for it. So Dimmesdale became even more ill.

So Hester goes to Roger Chillingworth and tells him to stop mentally torturing Dimmesdale. In fact, Roger Chillingworth repeatedly hit on Dimmesdale’s weak spot. He was reminded of his sins. In this way he was mentally punishing Dimmesdale. But Roger Chillingworth says he will never stop it. So Hester began visiting Dimmesdale occasionally in the forest to reassure him. Because any of them in town would suspect Dimmesdale if he saw them together. So one day while meeting in the forest, Hester tells Dimmesdale the true identity of Roger Chillingworth. Hester says that Roger Chillingworth is actually her husband. He is mentally torturing Dimmesdale to get revenge on him. Hearing this, Dimmesdale was very angry. But he committed a great sin. So he has nothing to do.

7. Dimmesdale and Hester plan to escape to Europe

He tells Hester that they will escape by ship to Europe. And they will go there and live as a family. In fact, Hester loves Dimmesdale a lot. And Dimmesdale also loves Hester. So Hester agrees to Dimmesdale’s proposal. Because she will also taste freedom this time. In other places, no one knows about their sin. So they no longer have to hide their faces. They can live together. A few days later Hester took off the scarlet letter A on her chest and took off her hair. Pearl was playing next door. But this is the first time Pearl sees her mother without the Scarlet Letter. So at first, she could not recognize her mother. Slowly the day of their escape to Europe was approaching.

8. Third scaffold scene

  Dimmesdale gave a religious speech at a regent recruitment ceremony the day before he fled to Europe. It was the best of all the sermons he gave during this time. Everyone was listening to him in awe. But he was feeling sick. He felt as if he would fall to the ground. Meanwhile, Hester learns that her husband Roger Chillingworth has found out about their escape to Europe. So he also booked a seat on that ship. In fact, he did not want to let them out of sight and was keeping them eye to eye.

Meanwhile, Dimmesdale finished his speech. Then, as he was leaving, Hester and her daughter Pearl were standing in front of the Stafford, the high place in the city, for lack of space. Everyone was looking at Hester. Because she had a scarlet letter A on her chest. Then Dimmesdale arrives and takes Hester’s and her daughter’s hands and climbs to the Scaffold. At this point, Dimmesdale exclaims that he is actually Pearl’s father. And he committed adultery with Hester. That’s why he showed everyone the scarlet letter A he used to wear. Dimmesdale felt quite relieved to admit the truth. And fell from there and died. His daughter Pearl then kisses him on the forehead.

9. The end of Hester and Pearl

Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, died a year later, out of anger and grief at not being able to exact revenge on Dimmesdale. And Hester and her daughter Pearl are known to have left Boston. No one knows where they went. And all the wealth that Pearl’s mother’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, has Pearl inherits all the wealth. And she became very rich.

Years later, Hester returns to the old cottage in town. And as before she started working and helping people. She once again began to wear the scarlet letter A, as she had worn earlier, as a punishment for adultery. But this letter was not an insult to her now but a matter of pride and honor. It gave her a lot of motivation and energy. And it reminded her of her beloved Dimmesdale.

Occasionally she receives letters from Pearl. Pearl has now married into a European aristocratic family. Then one day Hester dies and is buried next to Dimmesdale. And in the middle of the graves of both of them, a monument (Tombstone) is written on it with the scarlet letter A. And here the novel ends.

7 Most Influential Symbols:

1. The Scarlet Letter “A” – Symbol of Adultery.

2.. Pearl-Embodiment of Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale’s secret sin of adultery.

3. The Color Red

In The Scarlet Letter, the color red is a symbol of Hester’s great passion and love, as well as her sins.

4. The Rose Bush

The rose bush is a symbol for Hester. Red roses are known for their great beauty like Hester. Roses are known to be able to survive through even those most difficult of conditions. That ability to overcome difficult circumstances is also reflected in Hester’s character.

5. Hester and Dimmesdale

Hester and Dimmesdale are symbolic of Adam and Eve, as well as the consequences of going against the word of God.

6. The Scaffold

The scaffold is a symbol of punishment and public confession.

7. The Sunlight

Sunlight symbolizes both truth and the grace of God in The Scarlet Letter. Once the truth of Hester’s sin is revealed in public, she then stands in the sunlight. Once Dimmesdale reveals his role, he too stands in the sunlight.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

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

Articles: 230

Leave a Reply

error: Sorry !!