Scarlet Letter: Plot Summary

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Hester Prynne is the main character of this novel. She is a young married woman whose husband was presumed lost at sea on the journey to the New World many years before the heart of the story begins. She a secret forbidden relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale, the highly regarded town minister, and becomes pregnant with a daughter, whom she names Pearl. She is then publicly condemned and forced to wear the scarlet letter "A" on her clothing to identify her as an adulteress, but because of her loyalty refuses to reveal the identity of her lover. She accepts the punishment with grace and refuses to be defeated by the shame inflicted upon her by her society. Hester only partially regains her community's favor through good deeds and an admirable character by the end of her life. Dimmesdale, knowing that the punishment will be shame or execution, does not admit his relationship with Prynne. In his role as minister he dutifully pillories and interrogates Hester in the town square about the identity of the father. He maintains his righteous image, but internally he is dogged by his guilt and the shame of his weakness and hypocrisy. This is known by an open, self-inflicted wound on his chest. He is admired while Hester receives social contempt. Prynne's husband, Roger Chillingworth, returns but does not reveal his identity to anyone but Hester. Suspecting the identity of Hester's partner, he becomes Dimmesdale's caretaker and plans his revenge on him by torturing him. Ultimately Dimmesdale's guilt drives him to attempt a full repentance of his sin by standing on the scaffold with Prynne and Pearl.
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