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___________________________the scarlet letter

 

STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES

The Scarlet Letter


Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 1-4


Summary:


The first two chapters set the opening scene: 17th-century America, one June morning, Boston, a city in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where religion is the foundation for both law and society. The first chapter ends on the image of a rosebush and the writer suggests one of its blooms can "symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow."

Into this setting steps Hester Prynne, an attractive looking young woman. She is being led out of the prison door, holding a baby in her arms. Her attire is dark in color and simple in appearance. In contrast to this somber look, a large letter "A" in a crimson red color with gold stitching, is embroidered on her chest to symbolize her acts of adultery.

She is heading towards the town's square where a scaffold has been erected. Crowds of people are lined up on either side of the walk and as she passes, the women shout insulting words at her. The people have gathered to watch her being placed upon the pillory where she has to stay for three hours so that all can see her shame.

As she walks, she recalls her past: born to a house of "antique gentility" in Europe, married to a physically "misshapen" scholar, taken first by her husband to Amsterdam and then sent to America. She cannot believe that she is really suffering such shame. She never imagined that she would be the mother of an illegitimate child, made to wear a public token of her sin, and subject to the town's humiliation.

While she is on the platform, she looks around at the people who are standing in front of her. To her surprise, she sees the figure of a deformed man and realizes that it is her husband. He too seems to recognize her and gestures to her not to say anything.

The reader also meets some of the other important characters of the novel; the town fathers who sit in judgment on Hester, Governor Bellingham, Reverend Wilson, and Reverend Dimmesdale, the town's favorite preacher.

In Chapter IV, Hester has the opportunity to speak with her husband when he is called to the prison in the capacity of a doctor. When Hester meets him, she is fearful that he intends to poison her, but he reassures her that he wants to seek revenge. He tells her that he is using the name of Roger Chillingworth and makes her promise that she will not reveal his true identity to anyone.

 

Review:

The strictness of the Puritanical society becomes evident when the reader witnesses the scaffolding scene and the scarlet letter A. There is foreshadowing of events to come when Chillingsworth says, "Thou wilt not reveal his name? ....I shall read it on his heart."

The motives behind Chillingsworth's behavior are not explained, however one can assume that he is acting out of jealousy and bitterness. It is obvious that his marriage with Hester was an unhappy one and that he was unable to father a child with her.

 


  • Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Quick/Fast Review
  • About the Novel
  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of The Custom House
  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 1-4

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 5-8

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 9-12

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 13-16

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 17-20

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 21-24

  • Character List

  • Studyworld Essay Search on The Scarlet Letter

     

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