The Scarlet Letter | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Chapter 21 | The New England Holiday

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of chapter 21 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter.

The Scarlet Letter | Chapter 21 : The New England Holiday | Summary



It is Election Day, and people are arriving at the marketplace. Hester and Pearl gather with the rest of the community. Pearl asks her mother if Dimmesdale will speak to them, and Hester says they must not yet greet him in public. The shipmaster who is to take Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl to England tells Hester that Chillingworth has also made a reservation to travel on the ship. This information shocks and upsets Hester.


The narrator builds suspense in this chapter by revealing that Chillingworth has booked passage on the same ship that will carry Hester, Pearl, and the minister. Will Hester and Dimmesdale ever be able to escape the physician's evil clutches?

Meanwhile Pearl's conversation with her mother about Dimmesdale heightens the suspense as well. She recalls that he stood with both of them on the scaffold at night and joined them in the dark of the forest, but in the "sunny day, and among all the people," he refuses to acknowledge them, and they cannot be seen with him. Will that change? Will Dimmesdale confess? If not, will he continue to be tormented?

In a long passage on the significance of Election Day, the narrator ties the festival back to Elizabethan times and contrasts the gaiety and color of the celebration then to the "sad gray, brown, or black" affair of the Puritans. The passage reminds the reader of the dour, judgmental nature of the Puritan society portrayed in the novel, recalling the reproachful comments made about Hester by the townspeople early in the book.

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