scarlet letter summary

Chapter 1: The Prison Door
Chapter 2: The Market Place


These two chapters set the opening scene: 17th-century America, one June morning, Boston, a city in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where religion is the foundation for both law and society. The first chapter ends on the image of a rosebush and the writer suggests one of its blooms can "symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow."

On this stage, Hester Prynne emerges from the dark prison door to make her way to the scaffold where she will be publicly condemned. Holding a baby, she makes her way proudly through a crowd of scornful onlookers who are surprised at the brilliant letter "A" embroidered in gold thread on her chest. As she walks, she recalls her past: born to a house of "antique gentility" in Europe, married to a physically "misshapen" scholar, taken first by her husband to Amsterdam and then sent to America. She cannot believe that she is really suffering such shame. She never imagined that she would be the mother of an illegitimate child, made to wear a public token of her sin, and subject to the town\'s humiliation.

Chapter 3: The Recognition
Chapter 4: The Interview


In the crowd, Hester spots the husband who sent her to America and never fulfilled his promise to follow her. Though he is dressed in a strange hodge-podge of traditional clothing and native dress, she is struck by his wise countenance and recognizes his slightly deformed shoulders. The narrator also introduces us to the town fathers who sit in judgment on Hester: Governor Bellingham, Reverend Wilson, and Reverend Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale, much beloved for his eloquence, religious fervor, and soulful sermons, asks Hester to announce the name of her co-sinner. When she refuses, he delivers a powerful sermon on sin and dwells upon the meaning of the symbol on Hester\'s chest.

In Chapter 4, Hester comes face to face with her disguised husband when officials call in a doctor to calm her down. Going by the name Roger Chillingworth, Hester\'s husband offers her a cup of medicine. Without exchanging words, she knows who he is and almost refuses to drink. (His gaze makes her shudder and she thinks he might be poisoning her.) He assures her that he wants her to live so that he can have his revenge. In their honest conversation, he chastises himself for thinking that he, a deformed scholar, could keep a beautiful wife like Hester happy. He also makes her promise that she will not reveal to anyone his real identity.
Chapter 5: Hester at Her Needle
Chapter 6: Pearl


These chapters are mostly descriptive, giving the narrator a chance to analyze Hester and her daughter Pearl. In Chapter 5, Hester is released from prison and chooses to stay in the village. Hester, however, is alienated from everyone: town fathers, respected women, beggars, children, and even strangers. She serves as a sort of walking example of a fallen woman, a cautionary tale, for everyone to see. Hester is, however, uncommonly talented at the art of needlework. Even if most people in the town look down upon her, her embroideries are fit to be worn by the Governor because she always had a taste for the beautiful. (Her handiwork does not, however, adorn innocent brides.) Still, Hester is lonely and aware that she does not fit in at all. As shame burns inside of her, Hester looks for companionship or sympathy. Unfortunately, she does not find any.

All that Hester has is her daughter Pearl, who is described in great detail in Chapter 6. Described as a beautiful flower growing out of guilty conditions, Pearl is so named because she was "purchased with all [Hester] had - her mother\'s only treasure!" Given birth during a turbulent time in Hester\'s life, Pearl has all of Hester\'s moodiness, passion, and defiance. Because, "in giving her existence a great law had been broken," it is impossible to get Pearl to follow the strict rules of Puritan society. Hester loves her child, but worries about her. The narrator describes the child as an "outcast," but Pearl is even more than an outcast: