The Scarlet Letter


Chapter 1


A prison door is surrounded by a group of Puritan settlers. They are dressed in dark, simple clothing, and wear serious expressions. Just to the side of the door is a single wild rose bush, covered with flowers because it is June, rose season:


"[O]n one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him." Chapter 1, pg. 46.


Chapter 2


The townspeople talk about the prison\'s captive, a woman named Hester Prynne, who is being held for the crime of adultery. She leaves the prison with her three-month old daughter (the proof of her sin), Pearl, and proceeds through a throng of whispering people to the town scaffolds, where she will stand for the entire morning, until an hour past meridian.


She is not put in the stocks, but rather holds her daughter and stands alone for all to see. Being marked a sinner and displayed before the town is part of her punishment.


The townspeople get a first glimpse of the Scarlet Letter, \'A\' for Adultery, which Hester will be forced to wear from that day forward. The townspeople are both impressed by the skill of the embroidery and shocked by its beauty.


"On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony." Chapter 2, pg. 50.


The Scarlet Letter is in sharp contrast to the traditional clothing of the Puritan settlers. During this ordeal, Hester recounts in her head memories of life before she left England for the colonies - her father, her deceased mother, and a scholar with a deformed shoulder - the left one slightly higher than the right, a man later identified as Roger Chillingworth. It appears that this man was her husband.


Chapter 3


Still on display in the Town Square, Hester notices, at the edge of the crowd, a man with one shoulder higher than the other standing with a Native-American. "When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips." Chapter 3, pg. 57.


The man, who later identifies himself as Roger Chillingworth, then approaches a townsman to ask what crime Hester has committed. The man explains to Chillingworth that Hester is guilty of Adultery, but, although the sentence for such a crime is death, she has not been condemned to such a harsh sentence.


There are two main reasons for this. First of all, she refuses to identify the man with whom she committed this crime. Secondly, she came to this country alone, leaving her much-respected husband to study in Amsterdam, and nothing has been heard of him since. Many assume that he drowned on his voyage across the Atlantic. This assumption, along with the knowledge that she is good-looking, and was therefore more susceptible to this type of sin, caused the magistrates to give her a light sentence. Chillingworth, without revealing his identity in any way, comments that the decision not to kill Hester was a wise one. He also repeats, three times, "he will be known." Chapter 3, pg. 59, indicating that he intends to uncover the secret of the man who committed this crime with Hester. Meanwhile, Hester does not take her eyes from Chillingworth, whom she is glad she first encounters among a crowd. She thinks to herself that she would be afraid to meet him alone.


The day continues with Governor Bellingham, the