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The Scarlet Letter | Chapter Summaries

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Timeline of Events

  • 1850

    Hawthorne finds the scarlet letter and the manuscript of the story.

    The Custom-House
  • Before 1642

    Hester and Dimmesdale have an affair; she gives birth to Pearl and is convicted of adultery.

    Chapter 2
  • June 1642

    Hester, standing on the scaffold and wearing the scarlet letter, refuses to name her lover.

    Chapter 2
  • Same day

    Hester's husband makes her swear not to reveal his identity as he seeks to learn who her lover was.

    Chapter 4
  • 2 or 3 years later

    Hester needs Dimmesdale's help to prevent city officials from taking Pearl.

    Chapter 8
  • Same year

    Dimmesdale sickens but is celebrated for his piety; Chillingworth probes him.

    Chapter 10
  • Early May 1649

    On the scaffold, Dimmesdale confesses his sin as a meteor crosses the sky.

    Chapter 12
  • Some days later

    Hester tells Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her husband.

    Chapter 17
  • Same day

    Hester and Dimmesdale decide to take Pearl and leave Boston for England.

    Chapter 20
  • Four days later

    On the scaffold, Dimmesdale publicly confesses that he is Hester's lover and Pearl's father. He dies.

    Chapter 23

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
The Custom-House Writing in the first person, Hawthorne explains that he lost his job at the Salem Custom-House, where taxes on imports a... Read More
Chapter 1 The story is set in Boston, Massachusetts, in the mid-17th century. A group of stern Puritans has gathered in front of t... Read More
Chapter 2 Some of the women waiting outside the prison viciously discuss the prisoner, Hester, who has been found guilty of adulte... Read More
Chapter 3 Hester glimpses an older, slightly crippled man at the back of the crowd. The man, a stranger to Boston, signals to Hest... Read More
Chapter 4 Hester is extremely upset, and her baby is convulsing in pain. The jailer is sent to find a doctor. The crippled strange... Read More
Chapter 5 Because her term in prison has ended, Hester is free. She decides not to leave Boston. Instead she moves to an isolated ... Read More
Chapter 6 Hawthorne reveals that Hester named her daughter Pearl because of the great price at which she was born. Pearl is beauti... Read More
Chapter 7 Two or three years have passed. One day Hester and Pearl walk into Governor Bellingham's hall. Hester brings a pair of g... Read More
Chapter 8 The men present are Governor Bellingham, Reverend Wilson, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. Dimmesdale is ill. Hester insis... Read More
Chapter 9 Dimmesdale is thin and pale because of a strange illness, causing people to praise him as a saint. Chillingworth offers ... Read More
Chapter 10 Chillingworth probes deeper and deeper into Dimmesdale's mind and heart, asking the minister to reveal all his secrets t... Read More
Chapter 11 Chillingworth plots a "more intimate revenge" and so goes everywhere with Dimmesdale to probe deeply into the minister's... Read More
Chapter 12 Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold where Hester and Pearl had stood at the beginning of the novel. He imagines the universe ... Read More
Chapter 13 Seven years have passed since the opening of the novel, and things have changed. First, Hester has come to be well respe... Read More
Chapter 14 Shocked at how ill Dimmesdale looks, Hester decides to help him. Sending Pearl to play, Hester goes to speak with Chilli... Read More
Chapter 15 As Chillingworth leaves, Hester thinks about how much she hates him because of his evilness. Pearl approaches, having ma... Read More
Chapter 16 Finding out that Dimmesdale has gone to a Native American village, Hester, determined to warn him about Chillingworth, t... Read More
Chapter 17 Hester and Dimmesdale awkwardly discuss their shared unhappiness. Dimmesdale wants someone to know that he is a sinner, ... Read More
Chapter 18 Dimmesdale is shocked at Hester's boldness but also hopeful and happy that his misery will end with their escape. The na... Read More
Chapter 19 Pearl is standing across the brook, looking at her parents. Hester cautions Dimmesdale to stay calm. Dimmesdale puts his... Read More
Chapter 20 Dimmesdale thinks about their escape plan: in four days they will depart on a ship bound for England. The day before the... Read More
Chapter 21 It is Election Day, and people are arriving at the marketplace. Hester and Pearl gather with the rest of the community. ... Read More
Chapter 22 The honored officials enter with Dimmesdale among them. He looks so strong that Pearl doesn't recognize him. He does not... Read More
Chapter 23 Dimmesdale's speech is a huge success, and it is the most brilliant moment in his life. As the procession of honored off... Read More
Chapter 24 The narrator gives several conflicting accounts of what Dimmesdale revealed. Some people believe the minister had a scar... Read More
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