The Scarlet Letter
Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapters 17-20
Dimmesdale is at first surprised but then pleased to see Hester
in the forest. He begins to tell her how miserable he feels and she tries
to comfort him by telling him how much the people of the town love him.
Instead of helping him, her comments upset him even more because he says
that he is a fraud and is deceiving the congregation.
Hester then reveals Chillingworth's identity. Dimmesdale is
extremely upset with her and cannot understand why she would have done this
to him. After a while he forgives her when she explains that she was bound
by a promise and that she had thought that it would be better not to say
anything. She also confesses to him that she still loves him.
Dimmesdale is torn between his love for Hester and his uncertainty
about his future. On the spur of the moment, Hester comes up with a plan.
She suggests that they should leave and go back to Europe.
They are both overjoyed as this prospect and Hester even discards
the letter A and the stigma seems to leave them. She calls out to Pearl,
who has has been playing across a brook, to join them.
Pearl approaches them slowly, but is fearful to come all the
way, pointing to Hester's empty spot where the A used to be. Hester has
to pin the letter back before the child will venture further. When she comes
to Hester, she embraces her and kisses her, but is upset when Dimmesdale
kisses her. She even runs to the brook and washes the spot where his lips
touched her skin. Dimmesdale is not daunted by her actions and even feels
as if his energy is returning.
When he returns to his home, he tells Chillingworth that he
will no longer need his services or his advice. He then begins to prepare
his final sermon which he will be giving on "Election Day" (a
religious holiday about the "elect," or "saints" of
the Puritan church).
Chillingworth is puzzled by Dimmesdale's behavior and wonders
if he is starting to suspect him.
Hester's meeting with Dimmesdale in the forest, an "unspoiled"
environment, again represents the purity of their love. It is in this setting,
free from human restrictions, that their deep emotions can be expressed.
Unfortunately, Pearl forces them back into reality by insisting
that her mother needs to pin back the letter.
Another very important change occurs when Hester takes the
initiative to escape with Dimmesdale and convinces him to leave the colony
with her and Pearl and start a new life in Europe.