The Scarlet Letter

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

download word file, 8 pages 3.0

The Scarlet Letter is a romantic story that depicts the consequences of not being true to yourself. It shows that even though others may not agree with your choices, if you know what truly makes you happy, seize it. Do not be afraid of the conflicts you may encounter along the way. Hester and Dimmesdale's affair is a prime example of this. Their struggles to make it, and the outcome of the story shows that there is a greater consequence for depriving oneself of true love than proclaiming that love from the beginning.

There were four main characters in this book. They are Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth. Hester, the adulteress, has an affair and bares a child. As her punishment and to remind her of her sin daily, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her bosom. Dimmesdale is the highly respected reverend of the community.

He has the affair with Hester and becomes the father of Pearl. He experiences internal torture throughout the entire book and eventually dies from it.

Hester's daughter Pearl, also referred to as the elf-child or imp, is the result of the affair between Hester and Dimmesdale. Although she does not know that Dimmesdale is her father, she is drawn to him. Many people believe she is possessed because she loves mischief and disrespects authority. Finally, there is Chillingworth. He is Hester's real husband who comes to the Puritan society as a great doctor and aids Dimmesdale. He is an evil man who dedicates the rest of his life to getting revenge on Pearl's father.

All of these actions take place in a Puritan society in Boston, Massachusetts. This society is extremely strict and although they may not see themselves this way, the Puritan people are very condemning. There is a constant struggle to be perfect in a world which makes this goal impossible. It is when one desires to be true to himself, that we begin to hear of the secrets and betrayal.

The cottage by the sea is where Hester and Pearl move after Hester's long prison term. Hester steadily works here as a popular seamstress and also passes down her talents to Pearl. The mother and daughter spend much valuable time together in this home.

The last important setting is the scaffold. Although only a short amount of time is spent here, it is definitely where the most intense scenes occur. This is the place where all the main characters are revealed and their sins are made known to the community.

The first scaffold scene is presented in Chapter 2 and also begins this story.

Holding baby Pearl close to her bosom, Hester emerged from the prison door and was led through crowds of angry men and women. The crowd became even more harsh when Hester revealed her scarlet "A" which was described as elaborate and artistically done. The people felt that it almost was a thing of pride instead of punishment. She made her way into the market place and stood on the town scaffold. Hester then began to think about the different events in her life but soon went back to reality. As she stood there, Hester saw a disfigured man in the crowd and recognized him to be her long lost husband Roger Chillingworth. Chillingworth soon learned of Hester's sin and punishment and vowed to make known the baby's father. During this time, Dimmesdale pleaded with Hester to publicly make known the name of the man whom she had the affair with, but she just refused.

Later on that night, Chillingworth visited Hester in the prison. Hester first feared him but then calmed down as he gave her and the baby medicine. He explained to Hester that he did not blame her for the affair but was still determined to discover Pearl's father.

Chillingworth then made Hester swear that she would not reveal his identity of being her husband to anyone, especially Pearl's father. He then left her alone.

Finally, Hester's prison sentence was over. Given the option to flee from Boston or stay and face all the accusations, she stayed. Hester felt a connection to the spot and felt that by staying she would purify herself and possibly receive redemption for her sin.

She made her home in a small cottage on a peninsula in the outskirts of town. To make money, Hester began to make garments for the upper class members of her town. She also spent time making clothes for free to give to the poor as a way of penance. Even with all that she did, Hester was still an outcast from society. She tried to seek shelter in a church but found the sermon about her.

Throughout this time Pearl worried Hester. She would throw rocks at children and claimed that she had no heavenly father. Pearl had a fiery passion that Hester could not control. She even became very fascinated with Hester's scarlet letter and would often ask questions about it.

One day, while delivering a set of gloves to Governor Bellingham, Hester planned to speak with him about the rumors that Pearl would be taken from her. She brought Pearl with her and when they reached Bellingham's home, the servant allowed them to enter. When inside, they were approached by Governor Bellingham, Mr. Wilson ( a clergyman), Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. They tried to convince Hester that Pearl would be better off in a different home, but Hester refused.

The men decided to test Pearl to see if she was being raised in an appropriate Christian environment. Mr. Wilson questioned Pearl about her maker. Pearl made up a story that she was plucked off a rosebush. This infuriated the Governor but Hester plead with Dimmesdale to speak on her behalf. He did and talked them into letting Hester keep Pearl. Hester grabbed Pearl and quickly fled from the house.

Lately Dimmesdale's health seemed to decrease. Chillingworth, Dimmesdale's personal physician, decided to move in with him so he could look over Dimmesdale night and day. He was now beginning to suspect that the Reverend was Pearl's father. He tortured Dimmesdale mentally every chance he got. Dimmesdale began to grow very pale, and would often clutch his heart at any excitement. For some reason now, people began to see Chillingworth, not as a miracle from Heaven as once referred to, but as an evil being that Dimmesdale must overcome. One night while Dimmesdale was asleep, Chillingworth pulled back Dimmesdale's vest . He was ecstatic about what he found and danced around the room. He now knew for sure that Dimmesdale was truly Pearl's father and he began to say things just to hurt Dimmesdale.

As Dimmesdale felt worse, his popularity grew. He tried to tell people that he was not pure and sinless, like they all thought, but no one would listen to him.

Dimmesdale was unable to confess his sin so he relied on self-punishment as a solution to make himself feel better. He brutally beat himself in a closet, and one night he got dressed in fancy attire and walked out of the house.

Dimmesdale went to the scaffold where Hester had originally stood. As he stood there, Hester and Pearl came walking back from Governor Winthrop's house. Winthrop was ill, and many people were looking after him throughout the night. Dimmesdale called them up to stand with him. He then saw a comet form a giant, red letter "A" in the sky. As this took place, Pearl was pointing to something behind Dimmesdale. He turned around and saw Chillingworth. Dimmesdale became suspicious and asked Hester who Chillingworth was. Hester remained silent because of her earlier vow to her husband.

The next day after his sermon, Dimmesdale was given his glove that was found at the scaffold. He was told the "A" the night before stood for "Angel" because Governor Winthrop had died.

Hester realized how much Dimmesdale was suffering from guilt. She also saw how Chillingworth had become so evil. Hester finally decided to tell Dimmesdale the truth about Chillingworth but she could never seem to get him in privacy. One day, Hester learned of where Dimmesdale would be alone and went there with Pearl. They met up in a forest. Hester told him that Roger Chillingworth was her husband. The news was an incredible shock for Dimmesdale. He was extremely upset at first but then slowly calmed down. They then decided that it would be better to leave Boston together on a ship in four days. This news meant so much to Hester that she threw her scarlet letter and let down her beautiful, long, dark hair.

Hester then called Pearl over to her and Dimmesdale. She introduced the little girl to Dimmesdale as her father for the first time. Her reaction wasn't quite what they had expected. She had seen the scarlet letter on the ground and began to have a fit because of the change in her mother. She kicked and screamed until Hester put the cap and scarlet letter back on. After Pearl calmed down, Dimmesdale kissed her on the forehead.

Without any hesitation, Pearl quickly ran to the brook and washed it off.

As they left the forest, Dimmesdale was secretly happy because in three days he could deliver a speech announcing his retirement. He returned to town with a new outlook on everything. Dimmesdale's attitude had changed in such a dramatic way that he was now often tempted to do something horrible. That night, he sat down and wrote a revised Election Sermon.

The next day, Hester and Pearl attended the ceremony of naming the new Governor. Hester thought of her soon to be normal life and was excited at the thought that she would never have to wear the scarlet letter again. Her thoughts were soon interrupted however, when the captain of the ship she was going to escape on approached her. He proceeded to tell her that there would be another passenger on board with them, Roger Chillingworth. As the captain walked away, Hester saw Roger smiling at her.

As the procession started, Hester soon realized that she had another problem.

When Dimmesdale passed by her, he seemed very healthy and upbeat. So different than he had been in the forest three days earlier. She became angry at his attitude. As his sermon began and the crowd was drawn in by Dimmesdale's words, Hester focused on the tone of his voice. She felt a sense of pain and despair in his voice and became very sympathetic.

Dimmesdale finished his sermon and was praised by the congregation. As he began to leave the church, he appeared weak and about to fall. Dimmesdale stopped in the middle of the ceremony and called out to Hester and Pearl. Roger tried to stop her but he could not. The now united family climbed up onto the scaffold. Dimmesdale then confessed to the crowd the secret he had kept buried in his heart for so long. He showed them the stigma "A" that was on his heart. With his last words, Dimmesdale asked for a kiss from Pearl. When she gave it to him, like a miracle, she became a natural, well-behaved child. Soon afterward he died on the scaffold in Hester's arms.

Stories spread about the occurrences on the scaffold. While most believed that the stigma was formed by guilt, others claimed that it was never really there. Roger Chillingworth soon died because he had nothing else to live for since he was not seeking revenge. Pearl was left a great amount of money by Chillingworth. She was thought to of lived a normal life. Hester returned to Boston to live in her cottage. Women from all over the town came to her for advice about love. When Hester died she was buried next to Dimmesdale. They shared a tombstone that read: "On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." The Scarlet Letter is a wonderful book that touched my heart. The love that Hester and Dimmesdale shared was so beautiful that it could not be concealed. Love like that is almost impossible to find and that is why, if given the opportunity, we must take full advantage of it. I learned many useful things from reading The Scarlet Letter but the most important of them all would have to be to always be true to myself.