The Scarlet Letter


The first scaffold scene, focuses on Hester and the scarlet letter. She stands on the scaffold with quiet defiance, holding her baby in her arms. Meanwhile, a crowd of townspeople has gathered to watch her humiliation and hear a sermon. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, has just returned and is in the outskirts of the crowd. Her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, shares her platform but not her public humiliation.

All of the Characters are here. The townspeople are present to pass judgement. Hester stands alone with Pearl in her arms, a mere infant and sign of her sin. Dimmesdale, with other officials who represent the church-state, shares the platform. His ambivalence about maintaining his silence can be seen in his demand that Hester tell the name of the child’s father. In the crowd is also Roger Chillingworth whose voice is added to those of the crowd when demanding that Hester reveal her partner in sin. In this scene, we have Hester’s public repentance, Dimmesdale’s reluctance to admit his own guilt, and the beginning of Chillingworth’s fiendish plot to find and punish the father. The focus on the adultery and the letter is strengthened by the topic of sin in Mr. Wilson’s sermon.

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Chapter Two: The Market Place


The crowd in front of the jail is a mixture of men and women, all maintaining severe looks of disapproval. Several of the women begin to discuss Hester Prynne, and they soon vow that Hester would not have received such a light sentence for her crime if they had been the judges. One woman, the ugliest of the group, goes so far as to advocate death for Hester.

Hester emerges from the prison with elegance and a ladylike air to her movements. She clutches her three month old daughter, Pearl. She has sown a large scarlet A over her breast, using her finest skill to make the badge of shame appear to be a decoration. Several of the women are outraged when they see how she has chosen to display the letter, and they want to rip it off.

Hester is led through the crowd to the scaffold of the pillory. She ascends the stairs and stands, now fully revealed to the crowd, in her position of shame and punishment for the next few hours. Hawthorne compares her beauty and elegance while on the scaffold to an image of Madonna and Child, or Divine Maternity.

The ordeal is strenuous and difficult for Hester. She tries to make the images in front of her vanish by thinking about her past. Hester was born in England and grew up there. She later met a scholar who was slightly deformed, having a left shoulder higher than his right. Her husband, later revealed to be Roger Chillingworth, first took her to Amsterdam and then sent her to America to await his arrival.

Hester looks out over the crowd and realizes for the first time that her life condemns her to be alone. She looks at her daughter and then fingers the scarlet letter that will remain a part of her from now on. At the thought of her future, she squeezes her daughter so hard that the child cries out in pain.