• Year Published: 1850.
  • Pages: 264.

Summary of Chapters

The Scarlet Letter Chapters 1-5 Summary:

Hawthorne sets the location, noting the surroundings, which is a prison surrounded by overgrowth and, conversely, a vibrantly colored rosebush, an interesting juxtaposition against this harsh and dull foreground. Hester Prynne emerges from the cell, carrying a baby and wearing a beautifully designed scarlet “A” attached to her chest. The “A”, as we know, carries with it the burden of adultery, one of the recurring themes in The Scarlet Letter. She is lead through the crowd and up to the scaffolds for the gallows. She looks out and sees all of the angry and judgmental faces around her. While she is looking, she notices an awkward, rather homely man on the peripheral of the crowd, who we later know as Arthur Dimmsdale. An unknown to the community, he recognizes Hester and is taken aback. Someone tells him of Hester’s crime and the judgment passed down by the court, which is to stand on that scaffolding for 3 hours in front of the townspeople and any passersby, as well as to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest for the rest of her days. He learns that Hester will not reveal the name of the father of the baby.
The crowd jeers, the reverend, Reverend Mr. Wilson, delivers a long and fiery sermon, and then Hester is lead back into the prison. We learn that Hester’s husband, Chillingworth, wants only to know who the father of the child is. He swears that, when he meets the man, he will know. He swears Hester to secrecy with regards to the father’s identity. This act makes Hester feel quite nervous, as she feels as if she is making a deal with the devil, so to speak. Next we see Hester’s jail sentence end. She chooses to remain and make a home on the outskirts of town in a small house by the sea. She seeks out a life as a seamstress.

The Scarlet Letter Chapters 6-12 Summary:

Pearl, Hester’s daughter, grows up. She and Hester are constant companions. Soon, Hester learns that Pearl is to be taken away. Hester goes to Governor Bellingham’s house to beg that this doesn’t happen. Things don’t go very well and, only after Chillingworth persuades the governor and the reverend (present also in the scene), by noting that Pearl is a constant reminder of Hester’s sin, they are allowed to remain together. After this, Chillingworth takes up residence with Arthur Dimmesdale as his doctor. Dimmesdale is ailing. Nerves and stress eat at him.We see a soul being tortured by guilt and the omission of the truth. Dimmesdale is keeping his life a secret from the townspeople as well as keeping away from Hester and his daughter, Pearl. We also so the negative forces trying to find out that truth. There is a pivotal scene in chapter 12 where Dimmesdale meets Hester and Pearl on the town’s scaffold, where they talk, lament and hold hands. Chillingworth witnesses this scene.

The Scarlet Letter Chapters 13-16 Summary:

Seven years has transpired since that last scaffold scene. Pearl is 7 and is a societal pariah. Hester has merged back into the community slightly, helping the sick and unable. There is an important scene between Hester and Chillingworth where they speak of the act, of finally telling the truth, of revealing Chillingworth’s true evil identity and of taking off the scarlet “A”. Chillingworth resists fiercely, claiming that Hester must earn that right. The dialogue of the “Black Man”, i.e. the embodiment of evil, comes into play during this portion of the story.

The Scarlet Letter Chapters 17-24 Summary:

Hester confronts Dimmesdale and tells him everything. They reconcile and make plans to leave for Europe and begin a new life together. Hester casts off her scarlet “A” and decides to introduce Pearl to her father. For whatever reasons, Pearl is not happy with this new knowledge and begs her mother to put back the “A” so that she can recognize her. Undaunted but a little shaken up, Dimmesdale returns to his life, throwing away old sermons for new ones and stopping medical council and prescription from Chillingworth.
Next, it is the inauguration of a new governor. The whole town comes out to watch. Dimmesdale delivers an amazing sermon, Hester finds out that Chillingworth will be on the boat to Europe with them and she decides to reveal, on the very scaffold where she was condemned, the truth. Dimmesdale confesses to the townspeople and corroborates Hester’s truth. They kiss and, dramatically shortly after that, Dimmesdale dies. Finally, we see Hester and Pearl leave the village and stay away for a number of years. She does come back, years later, to finish out her life there and, when she dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale with one headstone which bears only the letter “A” on it.

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