Title of work and author: “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Genre: Novel, Gothic Romance
Historical Context: “The Scarlet Letter” was written in a time where Christianity prevailed and influence everyone’s decisions. Year Published: 1850
Literary Period: The Romantic Era
Hester Prynne - Hester is the book’s protagonist and the wearer of the scarlet letter that gives the book its title. The letter, a patch of fabric in the shape of an “A,” signifies that Hester is an “adulterer.” Hester married an elderly scholar, Roger Chillingworth, who sent her ahead to America to live but never followed her. While waiting for him, she had an affair with a Puritan minister named Dimmesdale, after which she gave birth to Pearl. Hester is passionate but also strong. She endures years of shame and scorn due to the affair. However she began to be adored and looked as an angel by the community as the years went on. Antagonist:
Roger Chillingworth- Hester's husband from the Netherlands. Chillingworth arrives in Boston on the day that Hester is publicly shamed and forced to wear the scarlet letter. He vows revenge on Dimmesdale, after finding out who committed the sin. He lusts for revenge, and thus decides to stay in Boston despite his wife’s betrayal and disgrace. He is a scholar and uses his knowledge to disguise himself as a doctor, intent on discovering and tormenting Hester’s anonymous lover. Chillingworth is self-absorbed and both physically and psychologically monstrous. His single-minded pursuit of retribution reveals him to be the most malevolent character in the novel. His revenge is stalled when Dimmesdale reveals that he is Pearl's father before dying. Chillingworth, having lost the object of his hatred, dies soon thereafter Plot Summary: On a day in June 1642, Hester Prynne is to stand on the scaffold in the village square for three hours. The red letter “A” which she has embroidered on her dress brands her as an adulteress. Hester refuses to name the father. Under the guise of a medical doctor and the assumed name of Roger Chillingworth, Dr. Prynne demands unsuccessfully the name of the child’s father and vows revenge on him. Hester takes up residence with her daughter Pearl at the edge of the village. Chillingworth remains as the town physician and moves in with the young Reverend Dimmesdale, whose physical health is deteriorating but whose sermons about sin are more powerful than ever. Chillingworth determines that Dimmesdale is indeed the father of Pearl and torments the minister with teasing and debate while keeping him alive with medicines. For seven years, Hester suffers her outcast state until the deterioration of the minister’s health forces her to confront him. Arthur Dimmesdale, her lover, and Hester meet in the forest where they renew their love and commitment and decide to return to England together. However, the minister is unable to endure his spiritual agony and mounts the public scaffold in the dark of night, confessing his sin where no one can hear him .Joined by Hester and Pearl, and unsuccessfully restrained by Chillingworth, Dimmesdale confesses his guilt and dies. Chillingworth, now without purpose in life, dies within a year, leaving his fortune to Pearl. Mother and daughter leave Boston, but many years later, Hester returns to take up quiet residence and resume wearing the scarlet letter and doing good works and passes away in peace. Key Themes: Sin, Knowledge, Guilt, Identity
Significant Literary Elements:
The Scarlet Letter "A" -The main symbol in the novel is the scarlet letter "A", which openly symbolizes Hester's adultery. For Dimmesdale and Hester, the scarlet letter stands for agony, which Hester displays in her isolated life and which Dimmesdale displays in his deteriorating health. By the end of the novel, the townspeople think that Hester's scarlet "A" stands for “Able”, for she has become a generous helper for the poor and a counselor for their...
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