This version also includes bonus annotations on:
- information on the historical context of the book
- general synopsis
- discussion of themes
- detailed biography of the author
The Scarlet Letter (1850) is a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, considered to be his "magnum opus" and most famous work. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who gives birth after committing adultery and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the novel, Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.
The novel takes place during the summer in 17th-century Boston, Massachusetts in a Puritan village. A young woman, named Hester Prynne, has been led from the town prison with her infant daughter in her arms and on the breast of her gown "a rag of scarlet cloth" that "assumed the shape of a letter." It was the uppercase letter "A". The Scarlet Letter "A" represents the act of adultery that she has committed and it is to be a symbol of her sin—a badge of shame—for all to see. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester's husband, who is much older than she, and whose real name is unknown, has sent her ahead to America whilst settling affairs in Europe. However, her husband does not arrive in Boston, and the consensus is that he has been lost at sea. It is apparent that, while waiting for her husband, Hester has had an affair, leading to the birth of her daughter. She will not reveal her lover's identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her subsequent public shaming, is the punishment for her sin and secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her child's father.
The elderly onlooker is Hester's missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass. Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and her daughter Pearl grows into a willful, impish child—in Hawthorne's work, Pearl is more of a symbol than an actual character—and is said to be the scarlet letter come to life as both Hester's love and her punishment. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston. Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but with the help of Arthur Dimmesdale, an eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there may be a connection between the minister's torments and Hester's secret, and he begins to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps, Chillingworth discovers something undescribed to the reader, supposedly an "A" burned into Dimmesdale's chest, which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.