Literapedia Book Notes for

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


  • Hester Prynne (ch 2)—a woman forced by society to wear a scarlet “A” to signify her sin of adultery, and, perhaps, to signify even more.
  • Pearl (ch 2)—Hester’s daughter, who was bought at a great price. Pearl seems to understand her parent’s predicament and acts to bring about the conflict’s resolution.
  • Arthur Dimmesdale (ch 3)—the goodly, young minister whose meek, pious exterior contains a passion and pain known to none but Hester first.
  • Roger Chillingworth (ch 3)—a man learned of science and alchemy taught, it is said, by savages. Roger is in fact the husband of Hester that everyone thinks is buried in the deep blue sea.
  • Governor Richard Bellingham (ch 3)
  • Rev. John Wilson (ch 3)
  • Mistress Ann Hibbins (ch 8)—the bitter-tempered sister and house-mate of Governor Bellingham. Historically, she was executed as a witch.
  • Governor John Winthrop (ch 12)—we never get to meet him, but he dies the night Dimmesdale ascends the scaffold.
  • Isaac Johnson (ch 10)—if you know who this guy is, then you’re doing better than most.

Chapter Summaries

  • Introductory: The Custom-House) Written in the first person, Hawthorne details his cushy state-job counting goods being imported into Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne viciously makes fun of many of his old, bearded cohorts, especially the Collector, General Miller.Hawthorne finds a Scarlet Letter among the boxes of information stored in the Custom House, and he purports to derive the following tale from historic fact. Hawthorne ends this essay with an account of his losing his job, which, he assures the reader, was for the best.
  1. The Prison-Door) An introduction to the town of Salem, Mass. The prison and the cemetery are described, as well as a rose-bush by the prison-door from which the following tale is plucked.
  2. The Market-Place) A crowd consisting especially of angry old women gather in front of the prison. Hester Prynne, babe in arms, emerges from the dark portal. Hester wears a brilliantly embroidered Scarlet Letter that she in doomed to wear for the rest of her life as punishment for committing adultery. Hester ascends the town’s scaffold, or platform of the pillory, and her former life flashes before her eyes.
  3. The Recognition) From the scaffold Hester recognizes her husband, Roger Chillingworth, who has just arrived from lengthy travels. Chillingworth learns of Hester’s sin and decides not to reveal himself as her husband. Hester is first addressed by John Wilson who entreats Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester’s minister, to ask that she reveal her partner in sin. Hester will not speak, and is eventually led back to the prison.
  4. The Interview) Afraid for Hester in her nervous state, the jailer calls for Chillingworth, already known in the town as a physician, to administer help to the woman and child. Chillingworth gives Hester and the child a draught to calm their fears, and he informs them of his intention to seek out the man who sinned with Hester. Hester promises Chillingworth not to reveal his identity.
  5. Hester at Her Needle) Hester retires to her cottage on the outskirts of town and earns a living for herself and her daughter by sewing. Hester begins to notice the almost magical properties of the Scarlet Letter.
  6. Pearl) Pearl, Hester’s daughter, turns out to be a bit of a discipline problem for her mother. At times, Hester becomes so bemused with her daughter that she questions her daughter’s genesis.
  7. The Governor’s Hall) Hester and Pearl go to the Governor’s mansion to deliver a pair of gloves and entreat the Governor not to take Pearl away from Hester. Along the way they see a suit of armor and rose-bushes.
  8. The Elf-Child and the Minister) Hester and Pearl encounter the Governor in the company of Rev. Wilson, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale. Wilson interviews Pearl, and when the child’s answers aren't quite up to snuff, Dimmesdale intervenes on Hester’s behalf. Leaving with her child, Hester encounters Mistress Hibbins.
  9. The Leech) Chillingworth becomes the personal physician of, befriends, and moves-in with Dimmesdale. Most of the town seems happy with the situation.
  10. The Leech and His Patient) Chillingworth discusses with Dimmesdale the nature of sin. In the middle of the discourse, the pair views from a window of their house Hester and Pearl walking by. Later, Chillingworth sneaks a peak at the sleeping Dimmesdale’s chest.
  11. The Interior of a Heart) Dimmesdale sinks lower into despair and punishes himself privately for his transgressions.
  12. The Minister’s Vigil) In the middle of the night, Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold. Spying Hester and Pearl, he invites them to join him, and the sky is illuminated by a comet. Chillingworth appears and takes Dimmesdale home.
  13. Another View of Hester) Since seven years had passed, the townspeople have taken a new view of Hester. Hester takes a new view of Dimmesdale and resolves to help him.
  14. Hester and the Physician) Hester confronts Chillingworth as he gathers herbs in the forest.
  15. Hester and Pearl) Hester decides that she hates Chillingworth, and she resolves to reveal his secret to Dimmesdale. Pearl starts to bug Hester about the letter’s meaning
  16. A Forest Walk) Hester and Pearl dodge shadows and sunlight in the woods, and Pearl tells her mother what she knows about the Black Man.
  17. The Pastor and His Parishioner) Hester and Dimmesdale meet along the narrow forest path. They forgive each other, and the pair decides to begin anew.
  18. A Flood of Sunshine) Hester and Dimmesdale bask in the happiness of their decision. Hester loses the “A” and lets down her hair.
  19. The Child at the Brook-Side) Pearl notices that her mother is missing her “A,” and Pearl refuses to approach until she puts it back on. Pearl refuses the minister’s advances.
  20. The Minister in a Maze) Dimmesdale returns a new man from his rendezvous with Hester. Dimmesdale denies Chillingworth’s medicinal advances, and the next day’s sermon pours forth from the minister onto paper.
  21. The New England Holiday) Amid a backdrop of Salem’s Governor’s inauguration, Hester finds her and Dimmesdale’s plan for escape by sea foiled by an uninvited Chillingworth.
  22. The Procession) Hester despairs amid the crowd while Pearl flies from Mistress Hibbins, to an Indian, to the sea-captain.
  23. The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter) Dimmesdale delivers his sermon to universal acclaim and impulse. He advances to the scaffold, where he is identified by Pearl’s kiss. Dimmesdale’s eyes brighten, and he dies.
  24. Conclusion) Chillingworth fades away. Hester and Pearl live happily ever after, and Hester returns to Salem to be buried next to Dimmesdale.

Book Note Creator

Hal Waller, instructor