The Scarlet Letter LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter PLOT SUMMARY & SETTING

LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Setting: In the mid-seventeenth century (mid 1600‘s), in the town of Boston, in the colony of Massachusetts.
The novel opens with a description of the prison door. Outside the door, people await Hester, a woman who has
been imprisoned for committing adultery. The women demand a harsher penalty for Hester‘s crime. When Hester
emerges, she meets the criticism of the crowd with a sense of defiance. Hester is led to the scaffold where she is to
be publicly shamed. Hester is forced to wear the letter "A" on her gown at all times. She has stitched a large scarlet
"A" onto her dress bordered with gold thread, giving the letter an air of elegance. Hester carries Pearl, her daughter,
with her. On the scaffold she is asked to reveal the name of Pearl‘s father, for his won sake, but she refuses, despite
Rev. Dimmesdale‘s pleading.
In the crowd Hester recognizes her husband from Amsterdam, Roger Chillingworth. Chillingworth assumes the
identity of a physician and visits Hester after she is returned to the prison. She is concerned that he will seek revenge
on her but he declares that they are even – while her affair wrongs him, he wronged her first by marrying her. He
also asks who the father is, and again she refuses. He tells her that he will find out who the man was, and that he will
read the truth on the man‘s heart. He then forces her to promise never to reveal his true identity, an oath that Hester
fear‘s will haunt her – she compares the bargain with making a deal with the devil.
Once her prison time is ended, Hester moves into a cottage bordering the woods. She and Pearl live there in relative
solitude. Hester earns her money by doing stitchwork for local dignitaries, the only item she is not allowed to sew is
a wedding veil. Hester makes good money for her sewing but keeps only enough to feed and clothe herself and
Pearl. The rest of her money she spends on helping the poor and needy of Boston. Despite her charitable works, she
is still condemned by society – even by the poor whom she is helping. Pearl grows up to be wild, in the sense that
she refuses to obey her mother. However, Pearl is also shown to be incredibly intelligent and keenly intuitive. Many
whisper than Pearl is the child of an affair between Hester and the devil. The town demands that Pearl be taken from
Hester (to either aid in Hester‘s recovery or to spare Pearl an immoral upbringing). Hester pleads her case to Rev.
Wilson and Governor Bellingham. However, Rev. Dimmesdale intercedes on her behalf (at her insistence) and they
decide to leave Pearl with Hester.
Roger Chillingworth earns a reputation as being a good physician, though there is some doubt among many of the
townspeople as to his scruples. He uses his reputation to get transferred into the same home as Arthur Dimmesdale,
whose health has been steadily failing. Chillingworth eventually discovers that Dimmesdale is the true father of
Pearl (by discovering an ‗A‘ burned/carved into Dimmesdale‘s chest), at which point he spends his every moment
trying to torment the minister by playing on his guilt.
One night Dimmesdale is so overcome with shame about hiding his secret that he walks to the scaffold where Hester
was publicly humiliated. He stands on the scaffold and imagines the whole town watching him with a letter
emblazoned on his chest. While standing there, Hester and Pearl arrive. He asks them to stand with him, which they
do. Pearl then asks him to stand with her the next day at noon, which he refuses to do. When a meteor illuminates
the three people standing on the scaffold, they see Roger Chillingworth watching them. Dimmesdale tells Hester that
he is terrified of Chillingworth, who offers to take Dimmesdale home. Pearl claims to know who Chillingworth is
and why he is so frightening, but refuses to tell Dimmesdal because Dimmesdal won‘t live up to his responsibility.
Hester realizes that Chillingworth is slowly killing Dimmesdale, and that she has to help him.
A few weeks later Hester sees Chillingworth picking herbs in the woods. She tells him that she is going to reveal the
fact that he is her husband to Dimmesdale. He reveals that he has not been killing Dimmesdale, but keeping him
alive so that he may torture him further. He is not against her revealing his secret now, for he feels that he already
‗owns‘ Dimmesdale. He tells her that Providence is now in charge of their fates, and that she may do as she sees fit.
LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter
Hester takes Pearl into the woods where they wait for Dimmesdale to arrive. He is surprised to see them, but
confesses to Hester that he is desperate for a friend who knows his secret. She comforts him and tells him
Chillingworth‘s true identity. He is furious, but allows her to convince him that they should run away together. He
finally agrees, and returns to town with more energy than he has ever shown before. However, as time passes, he
begins to envision committing more sins, and using his position and reputation to entice others to sin. He realizes
that the happiness he felt was hollow because he is just running from his responsibilities.
Hester finds a ship which will carry all three of them, and it works out that the ship is due to sail the day after
Dimmesdale gives his Election Sermon. However, during the day of the sermon, Chillingworth gets the ship‘s
captain to agree to take him on board as well. Moreover, he sends word through one of the seamen that he will
ensure Dimmesdale is on board and that Hester need worry only about herself and Pearl. Hester does not know how
to get out of this dilemma.
Dimmesdale gives his Election Sermon, focusing on man‘s relationship with God, and it receives the highest
accolades of any preaching he has ever performed. He then unexpectedly walks to the scaffold and stands on it, in
full view of the gathered masses. Dimmesdale calls Hester and Pearl to come to him. Chillingworth tries to stop him,
but Dimmesdale laughs and tells him that he cannot win. Hester and Pearl join Dimmesdale on the scaffold.
Dimmesdale then tells the people that he is also a sinner like Hester, and that he should have assumed his rightful
place by her side over seven years earlier. He then rips open his shirt to reveal a scarlet letter on his flesh.
Dimmesdale asks Pearl to kiss him, and she does, amidst her tears. Dimmesdale falls to his knees and dies while on
the scaffold.
Soon after, Chillingworth also dies, and surprisingly leaves his entire fortune to Pearl, making her the wealthiest
woman in the colonies. Hester and Pearl leave the town for a while, presumably to Europe, and several years later
Hester returns. No one hears from Pearl again, but it is assumed that she gets married and has children in Europe.
Hester never removes her scarlet letter, and when she passes away she is buried next to Dimmesdale in Kings‘
Hester Prynne – Hester is the main character in The Scarlet Letter. She was sent to the New World by her
husband and he was to follow. As time passes, she presumes he has died and has an adulterous affair. The result
of this affair is he daughter Pearl. Hester is forced to wear the scarlet ―A‖ on her chest as penance for her sin.
She is shunned by society. However, Hester grows through this despair to become a strong and fiercely
independent woman. She forges herself a new reputation through her good works. She also gains a deeper
understanding of human nature through her suffering. Hester‘s relationship with Pearl is strained as Pearl
continuously asks who her father is. Hester purposely refuses to reveal the father of Pearl, forcing him to take
responsibility for his own actions.
Pearl – Pearl is Hester‘s daughter from an adulterous affair. She is a child wise beyond her years and
continuously torments her mother in public and in private. Despite this, she is also aggressively defensive of her
mother around others in the town. Pearl seeks to know who her father is and acts as a living representation of
Hester‘s scarlet ―A‖. Because of Pearl‘s wild behavior, many in town whisper that she is the daughter of the
devil. Pearl‘s insight leads her to suspect Dimmsdale as her father, though she still demands that Hester tell her.
When Dimmsdale dies in the end, Pearl is released for her role as punishment for Hester and becomes a normal
child. She is independent like her mother and lives a good life in Europe when she gets older.
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale – Dimmsdale is a man of solid reputation. Unlike the typical ‗fire and
brimstone‘ preachers of the time, he is known as a kind and gentle man. He is intelligent and emotional. He is
known as a scholar and many seek his guidance and wisdom. He is shown as introspective and thoughtful. At
Hester‘s request, he intercedes on her behalf when the governor considers removing Pearl from Hester.
Dimmsdale also takes in Roger Chillingworth as a houseguest. The two are very different men and often have
deep conversations about human nature. As the story progresses, Dimmsdale‘s health fades. He becomes more
withdrawn and his expression always seems pained. His guilt over having committed the sin of adultery with
Hester is compounded by his inability to take responsibility for it, letting Hester suffer alone. This guilt causes
LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter
him to carve the letter ―A‖ into his own flesh and ruins his health, ultimately leading to his death. Upon dying,
he reveals his sin to the town.
Roger Chillingworth - Chillingworth arrives in Boston on the day Hester is brought out from jail and made to
stand upon the scaffold. His ship had been wrecked and he had washed ashore to be captured by Indians. It soon
turns out that the name Roger Chillingworth is a disguise and he is in fact Hester‘s husband from Europe (the
Netherlands). He is hurt by her betrayal, but takes some of the blame upon himself, for marrying someone so
much younger than himself. He does, however, demand to know who the father is and swears to have his
revenge on the man. Though Hester refuses, Chillingworth stays in Boston, acting as a doctor and gaining much
respect, coldly hunting Hester‘s lover. Chillingworth is consumed by his desire for revenge. He soon deduces
that Dimmsdale is the man he has been hunting and sets about cruelly torturing Dimmsdale emotionally. When
Dimmsdale dies in the end and reveals his sin, Chillingworth is robbed of his ultimate revenge and dies soon
after, having lost his reason for living. Oddly, Chillingworth leaves his entire fortune to Pearl.
The Scarlet Letter – The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but instead it becomes a powerful
symbol of identity to Hester. The letter‘s meaning shifts as time passes. Originally intended to mark Hester as
an adulterer, the ―A‖ eventually comes to stand for ―Able.‖ Finally, it becomes indeterminate: the Native
Americans who come to watch the Election Day pageant think it marks her as a person of importance and
status. Like Pearl, the letter functions as a physical reminder of Hester‘s affair with Dimmesdale. But, compared
with a human child, the letter seems insignificant, and thus helps to point out the ultimate meaninglessness of
the community‘s system of judgment and punishment. The child has been sent from God, or at least from
Nature, but the letter is merely a human contrivance.
The Rosebush (next to the prison door) – The narrator chooses to begin his story with the image of the
rosebush beside the prison door. The narrator attributes two symbolic links to the rose-bush. First he states: ―in
token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.‖ In other words, the rose-bush symbolizes
God‘s or Nature‘s pity and the possibility of redemption. At the end of the chapter the narrator states: ―It may
serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the
darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.‖ The rose-bush becomes an indicator of the ‗moral‘ the
reader should learn. It reappears again in chapter VII, when Pearl asks to be given a rose and Hester refuses her
request. The rose is a perfect symbol for hope. While a rose is beautiful, it also has thorns. To hold the flower
we must be willing to tolerate pain – just as we must be willing to face pain to find redemption.
The Prison Door – The prison door itself symbolizes Puritan society: it is heavy and foreboding (stubborn and
rigid) and, more importantly, closed at the beginning of the play. Moreover, the prison door separates the rosebush and the weeds and brambles. This can be taken to represent the black-and-white view of the Puritans, a
person is either good or bad, but cannot be both – a rigid and unforgiving mindset.
Pearl – Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl is a
sort of living version of her mother‘s scarlet letter. She is the physical consequence of sexual sin and the
indicator of a transgression. Yet, even as a reminder of Hester‘s ―sin,‖ Pearl is more than a mere punishment to
her mother: she is also a blessing. She represents not only ―sin‖ but also the vital spirit and passion that
engendered that sin. Thus, Pearl‘s existence gives her mother reason to live, bolstering her spirits when she is
tempted to give up. It is only after Dimmesdale is revealed to be Pearl‘s father that Pearl can become fully
―human.‖ Until then, she functions in a symbolic capacity as the reminder of an unsolved mystery (the ‗moral
blossom‘ of the story). Pearl also comes to take on the symbolism of the rose-bush. She is compared to the rose
by both Rev. Wilson and herself in chapter VIII. At that point, she functions as a dual symbol.
The Meteor – As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter XII, a meteor traces out
an ―A‖ in the night sky. To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear a mark of shame just as Hester
does. The meteor is interpreted differently by the rest of the community, which thinks that it stands for ―Angel‖
and marks Governor Winthrop‘s entry into heaven. Puritans commonly looked to symbols to confirm divine
sentiments. In this narrative, however, symbols are taken to mean what the beholder wants them to mean (like
the scarlet letter itself).
Sunshine – Beginning in chapter VII, sunshine becomes a symbol for happiness/hope/God‘s grace. Pearl asks
to be given sunshine to play with and is denied. Later, while in the forest, waiting for Dimmesdale, Pearl says
that the sunshine doesn‘t like Hester because of her scarlet letter. Again, chapter XVIII is titled: A Flood of
Sunshine. Sunshine represents the redemption and happiness long denied both Hester and Dimmesdale, but now
LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter
that they have pledged themselves to each other, they have a moment of happiness. When Dimmesdale
confesses his sin on the scaffold, the narrator states that he does so in the sun. This lets the reader know that
redemption has been gained (seen also in Pearl‘s acceptance of him).
Water – Water, such as the brook in the forest or Pearl‘s tears in the end, serve as a symbol of cleansing. In the
forest it states that the brook separates Pearl from Dimmsdale and Hester – who at the time are considering
running from their sins. When Hester casts off her scarlet letter, it never makes it into the water, but lands upon
its banks, an indication that she has not yet been cleansed of sin. In the end, when Pearl‘s tears fall on
Dimmsdale‘s cheek, it cleanses him of his sin and allows him to receive God‘s grace.
Authorial Intrusion – As is typical in Hawthorne‘s works, the narrator often interjects his thoughts and beliefs
into the story. In chapter one the narrator states, ―The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human
virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical
necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.‖ In
this, the narrator is critical of the hypocritical views of the puritan settlers. Likewise, the narrator frequently
peppers the story, particularly regarding descriptions of Hester, with overt comments about human nature and
how hypocritical humankind often is.
Foreshadowing – The revelation of Dimmsdale as Pearl‘s father is somewhat foreshadowed by certain events.
Pearl immediately takes to him when she is rude to everyone, even her mother. Also, in Hester‘s plea to
Dimmsdale for help in keeping Pearl, her words seem to hint at a connection between the two. Moreover, as the
story progresses and Dimmsdale‘s health fails, he clutches his chest when he is most pressured (clutching the
‗A‘ he has carved there).
Civilization vs. Wilderness – In The Scarlet Letter, the town and the surrounding forest represent opposing
behavioral systems. The town represents civilization, a rule-bound space where everything one does is on
display and where transgressions are quickly punished. The forest, on the other hand, is a space of natural rather
than human authority. In the forest, society‘s rules do not apply, and alternate identities can be assumed. While
this allows for misbehavior— Mistress Hibbins‘s midnight rides, for example—it also permits greater honesty
and an escape from the repression of Boston (while a sin, the affair was one of love). When Hester and
Dimmesdale meet in the woods, for a few moments, they become happy young lovers once again. Hester‘s
cottage, which, significantly, is located on the outskirts of town and at the edge of the forest, embodies both
orders. It is her place of exile, which ties it to the authoritarian town, but because it lies apart from the
settlement, it is a place where she can create for herself a life of relative peace. In addition, Pearl is linked
directly with Nature at several points within the story. Hawthorne leaves the direct meaning of Nature
somewhat ambiguous. It can be seen as a place where rules are abandoned and sin is possible – the rule of the
devil – as Puritans saw it, or it could be seen as the realm of God and man‘s corrupt laws have no sway (sin
occurs where there are people). This is mirrored in how Pearl is viewed: is she a product of sin and possessed by
the devil, or is she a gift from God despite sin? Pearl is also reflected in the water by the seashore and compared
with the brook in the forest. Water represents rebirth and cleansing, as does Pearl, as shown in her tears at the
end which wash away Hester‘s and Dimmesdale‘s sin and releases Pearl from her role as a symbol.
Night vs. Day – By emphasizing the alternation between sunlight and darkness, the novel organizes the plot‘s
events into two categories: those which are socially acceptable, and those which must take place covertly.
Daylight exposes an individual‘s activities and makes him or her vulnerable to punishment. Night, on the other
hand, conceals and enables activities that would not be possible or tolerated during the day — for instance,
Dimmesdale‘s encounter with Hester and Pearl on the scaffold. These notions of visibility versus concealment
are linked to two of the book‘s larger themes — the themes of inner versus socially assigned identity and of
outer appearances versus internal states. Night is the time when inner natures can manifest themselves. During
the day, interiority is once again hidden from public view, and secrets remain secrets.
Evocative Names – The names in this novel often seem to beg to be interpreted allegorically. Chillingworth is
cold and inhuman and thus brings a ―chill‖ to Hester‘s and Dimmesdale‘s lives. ―Prynne‖ rhymes with ―sin,‖
while ―Dimmesdale‖ suggests ―dimness‖— weakness, indeterminacy, lack of insight, and lack of will, all of
which characterize the young minister. The name ―Pearl‖ evokes a biblical allegorical device — the ―pearl of
LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter
great price‖ that is salvation. A pearl is also a hidden gem of great worth. Pearl‘s character works in much the
same way.
Gender Roles – As is typical with Hawthorne, he manipulate the roles of men and women, more specifically,
he addresses the perceived roles of men and women. As in his short stories, here to we find that woman (Hester)
offers the man (Dimmsdale) a chance at salvation, which he refuses, leading to his misery (just as Giovanni
refuses Beatrice‘s love and Aylmer refuses Georgiana‘s). Hester is shown as strong while Dimmsdale is shown
as weak. As a result of her isolation, Hester comes to recognize the truth about being a woman in her society:
they were not equal. This provides Hester her goal in life after she is forgiven for her sin, she becomes an agent
for social change.
Theme #1 – Strength vs. Weakness. Perhaps the greatest message in the novel is shown in the characters of Hester
and Dimmsdale. Hawthorne makes it clear (in all of his works) that sin, and therefore pain, is a part of what it means
to be human. Despite any hardship, shame, pain we may face in our lives, there is always hope. However, hope can
only be achieved through strength. Hester accepts those obstacles placed in her way. While she has moments of
doubts and at times harbors a desire to set aside her burden (considers leaving Boston for example), she always lives
up to her responsibility. Only for a moment does she cast aside her punishment – when she agrees to run away with
Dimmsdale, throwing off the scarlet letter – she does not continue through with the action. She takes back up her
letter and in doing so takes back the burden that belongs to her. Her acceptance of the shame and isolation only
strengthens her further. The result of this is a life that is remarkable. She lives up to every Puritan ideal and soon
becomes the ―mascot‖ of Boston, as everyone is amazed by her ability. In addition, her mind grows as well, finding
new ways of thinking. Dimmsdale provides a contrast. At not time is he strong. He hides from his guilt and shame,
fearing more the judgment of man. He continuously bemoans his lot in life and how difficult it is to suffer alone, and
even ―begs‖ to have his secret revealed, as long as it isn‘t by him. Though, near the end, when the revelation of his
secret sin is a real possibility, he panics – clearly showing us that he never intended to face judgment while still on
earth. His peak of cowardice comes when he begs Hester in the forest to take up his burden of guilt and shame for
him. Even in the end, when he confesses, his strength is borne more from fear of divine judgment and out of a sense
of escape from earthly judgment, since he knew he was dying. Hawthorne shows us two ways we can face adversity,
pain and guilt: be strong (face it and accept responsibility) or run from it (vainly trying to hide or put our
responsibility on others). Through strength we grow and can be elevated, while through cowardice we are destroyed.
Theme #2 – Sin, Knowledge and the Human Condition. Sin and knowledge are linked in the Judeo-Christian
tradition. The Bible begins with the story of Adam and Eve, who were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating
from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a result of their knowledge, Adam and Eve are made aware of their
humanness, that which separates them from the divine and from other creatures. Once expelled from the Garden of
Eden, they are forced to toil and to procreate — two ―labors‖ that seem to define the human condition. The
experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in
expulsion and suffering. But it also results in knowledge — specifically, in knowledge of what it means to be
human. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as ―her passport into regions where other women dared not tread,‖
leading her to ―speculate‖ about her society and herself more ―boldly‖ than anyone else in New England (a
Hawthorne belief – only through sin can we understand good). As for Dimmesdale, the ―burden‖ of his sin gives
him ―sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrate[s] in unison with
theirs.‖ His eloquent and powerful sermons derive from this sense of empathy. Hester and Dimmesdale contemplate
their own sinfulness on a daily basis and try to reconcile it with their lived experiences. The Puritan elders, on the
other hand, insist on seeing earthly experience as merely an obstacle on the path to heaven. Thus, they view sin as a
threat to the community that should be punished and suppressed. Their answer to Hester‘s sin is to ostracize her.
Yet, Puritan society is stagnant, while Hester and Dimmesdale‘s experience shows that a state of sinfulness can lead
to personal growth, sympathy, and understanding of others. Paradoxically, these qualities are shown to be
incompatible with a state of purity. This is shown near the end when Hester wears gray, unlike the typical Puritan
black and white. Determining if a person is good or evil is not easy, despite the absolute surety the Puritans apply to
such a question. Hester committed adultery, yet has since live a life above reproach. Is she evil for having sinned or
is she good for what she has become? It isn‘t so clearly defined, and the truth is probably closer to: she is both – as
are we all. Likewise, this idea that goodness can come from sin is shown symbolically in how Hester embroiders
her letter, how she dresses Pearl and in how the rose-bush grows next to the weeds and shrubs.
LITERATURE GUIDE: The Scarlet Letter
Theme #3 – The Nature of Evil. The characters in the novel frequently debate the identity of the ―Black Man,‖ the
embodiment of evil. Over the course of the novel, the ―Black Man‖ is associated with Dimmesdale, Chillingworth,
and Mistress Hibbins, and little Pearl is thought by some to be the devil‘s child. The characters also try to root out
the causes of evil: did Chillingworth‘s selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the ―evil‖ she committed in
Dimmesdale‘s arms? Is Hester and Dimmesdale‘s deed responsible for Chillingworth‘s transformation into a
malevolent being? This confusion over the nature and causes of evil reveals the problems with the Puritan
conception of sin. The book argues that true evil arises from the close relationship between hate and love. As the
narrator points out in the novel‘s concluding chapter, both emotions depend upon ―a high degree of intimacy and
heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent . . . upon another.‖ Evil is not found in Hester and
Dimmesdale‘s lovemaking, nor even in the cruel ignorance of the Puritan fathers. Evil, in its most poisonous form,
is found in the carefully plotted and precisely aimed revenge of Chillingworth, whose love has been perverted.
Perhaps Pearl is not entirely wrong when she thinks Dimmesdale is the ―Black Man,‖ because her father, too, has
perverted his love. Dimmesdale, who should love Pearl, will not even publicly acknowledge her. His cruel denial of
love to his own child may be seen as further perpetrating evil, and in fact constitutes the worst sin of all.
Chillingworth may have mad of himself a devil, and is clearly the antagonist of the story, but Dimmsdale is the
story‘s greatest sinner. Chillingworth also serves to inform us of the necessity for learning forgiveness and the
dangers of sustaining anger, rage or hate – common human emotions that are costly to engage in and are ultimately
Theme #4 – Identity and Society. After Hester is publicly shamed and forced by the people of Boston to wear a
badge of humiliation, her unwillingness to leave the town may seem puzzling. She is not physically imprisoned, and
leaving the Massachusetts Bay Colony would allow her to remove the scarlet letter and resume a normal life.
Likewise, after Dimmsdale and Chillingworth‘s deaths, Hester leaves with Pearl for several years, only to return and
take back her cottage, lifestyle and the scarlet letter. Surprisingly, Hester reacts with dismay when Chillingworth
tells her that the town fathers are considering letting her remove the letter. Hester‘s behavior is premised on her
desire to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her. To her, running away or
removing the letter would be an acknowledgment of society‘s power over her: she would be admitting that the letter
is a mark of shame and something from which she desires to escape. Instead, Hester stays, accepts her sin and
penance, which refigures the scarlet letter as a symbol of her own experiences and character. Her past sin is a part of
who she is; to pretend that it never happened would mean denying a part of herself. Thus, Hester very determinedly
integrates her sin into her life. Dimmesdale also struggles against a socially determined identity. As the
community‘s minister, he is more symbol than human being. Except for Chillingworth, those around the minister
willfully ignore his obvious anguish, misinterpreting it as holiness. Unfortunately, Dimmesdale never fully
recognizes the truth of what Hester has learned: that individuality and strength are gained by quiet self-assertion and
by a reconfiguration, not a rejection, of one‘s assigned identity.