The Scarlet Letter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, is set in Puritan New England in the 17th century. Exploring the issues of grace, legalism, and guilt, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, a Puritan woman who commits adultry then struggles to create a new life.

Source: Hawthorne, N. (1850). The Scarlet Letter. Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields.

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the novel.
Introduction: “The Custom-House”
This introduction provides a frame for the main narrative of The Scarlet Letter. The nameless narrator, who shares quite a few traits with the book’s author, takes a post as the “chief executive officer,” or surveyor, of the Salem Custom House. This section introduces us to the narrator and establishes his desire to contribute to American culture.
Chapter 1: “The Prison-Door”
This first chapter contains little in the way of action, instead setting the scene and introducing the first of many symbols that will come to dominate the story.
Chapter 2: “The Market-Place”
The narrator introduces the reader to Hester Prynne and begins to explore the theme of sin, along with its connection to knowledge and social order.
Chapter 3: “The Recognition”
In the crowd that surrounds the scaffold, Hester suddenly spots her husband, who sent her to America but never fulfilled his promise to follow her. Chillingworth makes inquiries and Hester is preached to.
Chapter 4: “The Interview”
Hester and her husband come face to face for the first time when he is called to her prison cell to provide medical assistance.
Chapter 5: “Hester at Her Needle”
The narrator covers the events of the years after Hester’s imprisonment.
Chapter 6: “Pearl”
Hester’s one consolation is her daughter, Pearl, who is described in great detail in this chapter.
Chapter 7: “The Governor’s Hall”
Hester pays a visit to Governor Bellingham’s mansion. She has two intentions: to deliver a pair of ornate gloves she has made for the governor, and to find out if there is any truth to the rumors that Pearl, now three, may be taken from her.
Chapter 8: “The Elf-Child and the Minister”
Bellingham, Wilson, Chillingworth attempt to take Pearl away, but Dimmesdale convinces them of Pearl's value to Hester.
Chapter 9: “The Leech”
By renaming himself upon his arrival in Boston, Chillingworth has hidden his past from everyone except Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. He incorporates himself into society in the role of a doctor, and since the townsfolk have very little access to good medical care, he is welcomed and valued. An opportuniy arises when Dimmesdale comes into his care.
Chapter 10: “The Leech and His Patient”
The inwardly tortured minister soon becomes Chillingworth’s greatest puzzle. The doctor relentlessly and mercilessly seeks to find the root of his patient’s condition.
Chapter 11: “The Interior of a Heart”
Chillingworth continues to play mind games with Dimmesdale, making his revenge as terrible as possible.
Chapter 12: “The Minister’s Vigil”
Dimmesdale mounts the scaffold where his behavior becomes absurd and neurotic followed by the next day’s powerful sermon and the mystery of the burning A in the sky.
Chapter 13: “Another View of Hester”
Seven years have passed since Pearl’s birth. Hester has become more active in society.
Chapter 14: “Hester and the Physician”
Hester resolves to ask Chillingworth to stop tormenting the minister. Chillingworth recalls his former days of glory and subsequent transformation into an evil man.
Chapter 15: “Hester and Pearl”
As Chillingworth walks away, Hester goes to find Pearl. She realizes that, although it is a sin to do so, she hates her husband. Hester and Pearl discuss the meaning of the scarlet letter.
Chapter 16: “A Forest Walk”
Intent upon telling Dimmesdale the truth about Chillingworth’s identity, Hester waits for the minister in the forest, because she has heard that he will be passing through on the way back from visiting a Native American settlement.
Chapter 17: “The Pastor and His Parishioner”
In the forest, Hester and Dimmesdale are finally able to escape both the public eye and Chillingworth. They join hands and sit in a secluded spot near a brook. Hester tells Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her husband. The former lovers plot to steal away on a ship to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family.
Chapter 18: “A Flood of Sunshine”
The decision to move to Europe energizes both Dimmesdale and Hester. Dimmesdale declares that he can feel joy once again, and Hester throws the scarlet letter from her chest. Hester reveals Pearl's heritage.
Chapter 19: “The Child at the Brook-Side”
Hester calls to Pearl to join her and Dimmesdale. From the other side of the brook, Pearl eyes her parents with suspicion.
Chapter 20: “The Minister in a Maze”
As the minister returns to town, he can hardly believe the change in his fortunes. But all is not as it seems as his behavior becomes erratic, leading to a strange meeting with Chillingworth.
Chapter 21: “The New England Holiday”
Echoing the novel’s beginning, the narrator describes another public gathering in the marketplace, but this time the purpose is to celebrate the installation of a new governor. Hester receives uneasines news about her journey and Chillingworth.
Chapter 22: “The Procession”
The majestic procession passes through the marketplace. Hester is disheartened to see the richness and power of Puritan tradition displayed with such pomp. News about Chillingworth worries Hester about her future.
Chapter 23: “The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter”
Dimmesdale finishes his Election Day sermon, which focuses on the relationship between God and the communities of mankind, and has an encounter with Hester to whom he makes a confession.
Chapter 24: “Conclusion”
The book’s narrator discusses the events that followed Dimmesdale’s death and reports on the fates of the other major characters.
  • Year Published: 1850
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 11.0
  • Word Count: 88,296
  • Genre: Romance
  • Keywords: 19th century literature, american literature, nathaniel hawthorne
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