Summary of Nathaniel Hawthorn's "The Scarlet Letter"

Essay by eq007High School, 11th gradeA+, March 2002

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The story takes place in the Puritan village of Boston, Massachusetts, during the first half

of the 17th Century. Several years before the novel begins, Hester Prynne came to the

New World to await the arrival of her husband who had business to conclude in Europe.

However, Hester's husband was captured by Indians upon his arrival in New England and

did not arrive in Boston as Hester expected. While living alone in Boston and believing her

husband dead, Hester committed adultery and became pregnant. The village magistrates

imprisoned her for this sin and decreed she must wear a scarlet "A" on the bodice of her

dress for the rest of her life. While in prison, Hester, highly skilled in needlework,

elaborately embroidered the scarlet letter with gold thread.

Before her release from prison, Hester was forced to stand on the public scaffold where all

the villagers could see her.

As the story opens, Hester is leaving the prison to take her

position on the scaffold. She wears the scarlet letter and carries with dignity her

three-month-old daughter Pearl. As Hester endures this public disgrace, Roger

Chillingworth, an old man new to the village, asks members of the crowd about her and

learns as much of her story as is commonly known. When he asks the identity of the

child's father, he discovers Hester has refused to divulge this information. From the

balcony overlooking the scaffold, the young Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale also asks for this

information and eloquently appeals to Hester to publicly name her partner in sin. She


Upon her return to prison, Hester is distraught, and Roger Chillingworth, a self-proclaimed

physician, comes to calm her and the babe. Chillingworth, who is actually Hester's

husband, refuses to publicly acknowledge her and share in her shame. He makes Hester...