Arthur Dimmesdale is a respected minister in Boston and the father of Pearl. While Hester waited for her husband to arrive from Amsterdam, she met Dimmesdale and had an adulterous affair with him, which led to the birth of their daughter. While Hester is publicly shamed for the adultery, Dimmesdale must suffer the ignominy quietly since no one knows of his culpability. The suffering begins to take its physical toll, especially since Hester's husband Chillingworth seeks to destroy Dimmesdale and is a constant reminder of the guilt and shame he harbors from his affair with Hester. At the very end of the novel, Dimmesdale admits to being Pearl's father and reveals that he has a scarlet letter branded into his flesh. He dies upon the scaffold while holding Hester's hand.
a nickname for the devil. The legend speaks of a Black Man who inhabits the woods and gets people to write their names in his book, using their own blood as ink.
the oldest inhabitant of the Customs House. He has the independent position of Collector, which allows him to avoid the politicized shuffling of positions. He also protects the other men from being fired, which is why many of the employees are old.
the former governor, who believes Hester should not be allowed to raise Pearl since it would only lead to the child's spiritual demise. He decides to allow Pearl to stay with her mother after Dimmesdale pleads on her behalf.
Hester Prynne, the protagonist of the novel, is the mother of Pearl. She must wear the scarlet letter A on her body as punishment for her adulterous affair with Arthur Dimmesdale, the town minister. Hester is married to Roger Chillingworth, but while Hester awaited her husband's arrival from Amsterdam, she met Dimmesdale and engaged in the adulterous affair, which led to Pearl's birth. Hester is never quite penitent for her “crime,” if only because she cannot understand how her punishments could be so harsh. When Governor Bellingham orders Pearl to be taken away from her, Hester wonders whether a woman must die for following her heart, prompting Dimmesdale to intercede as a subtle way of taking responsibility for the affair. Hester learns that Chillingworth is seeking to destroy Dimmesdale, and she decides that her marriage was never sanctified in the first place, for her husband has the seething rage of the devil himself. Hester is thus paired with Dimmesdale upon the scaffold for his final moments.
The Inspector is the patriarch of the Customs House. His father created the post for him, and he has retained it ever since. He is considered one of the happiest workers, likely because he knows he will never be removed from his post.
the eldest clergyman in Boston and a friend of Arthur Dimmesdale.
an ancient surveyor of the Customs House. Hawthorne, as narrator, claims to have found a package with his name on it, containing the story of the novel.
the sister of Governor Bellingham. She is killed for being a witch after the novel's events. She routinely sneaks into the woods during the night to conduct covert business in the service of "The Black Man."
Hester's daughter. Pearl is characterized as a living version of the scarlet letter. She constantly causes her mother and Dimmesdale torment and anguish throughout the novel with her ability to at once state the truth and deny it when it is most necessary. Pearl is described as extremely beautiful but lacking Christian decency. After Arthur Dimmesdale dies, Pearl's wildness eases, and she eventually marries.
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 the father of Pearl, and he soon moves in with Arthur Dimmesdale, who Chillingworth knows has committed adultery with his wife. His revenge is frustrated at the end of the novel, when Dimmesdale reveals that he is Pearl's father before dying. Chillingworth, having lost the object of his hatred, dies soon thereafter.
The Scarlet Letter Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Scarlet Letter is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
New England was a theocracy. There was little distinction made between religious law and civil law. The Puritans' very literal interpretation of morality and the Bible was enforced with the strictest of consequences.