The Scarlet Letter Chapter 17 Summary

Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

Hester Prynne and the Reverend Dimmesdale reach a turning point in their relationship in chapter 17 of The Scarlet Letter. What will become of their relationship is yet to come.

Previous Chapter

After seeing the effect that Roger Chillingworth has had on the Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester decides it is time that she tell Dimmesdale the truth, that Chillingworth is her husband. Hester and Pearl take a walk in the forest to wait for the Reverend. Hester sends Pearl off to explore and when she sees Dimmesdale, Hester calls out to him and gets his attention.

Chapter 17 Summary

When Hester calls out to the Reverend in the forest, he doesn't believe that it is actually her. Even living in their small Puritan town, the two have rarely seen each other in the past seven years, for obvious reasons. Or, probably more like not so obvious reasons. They act as though they are seeing each other's ghosts because it has been so long. They find a spot to sit and make small talk for a while about the weather before getting to the real reason they are there (don't nervous couples still talk about the weather today?)

Dimmesdale asks Hester if she has found peace and she looks at the letter A on her dress. She asks him the same question and he says no. His belief in God and his faith create daily torment, or suffering for the guilt he carries around with his secret. The fact that his honesty with his congregation has just made them revere him more makes the pain and guilt even worse.

Hester tries to console or comfort him by telling him his sins are in the past, long gone and forgotten, because of his penance. But, he disagrees telling her that she can't understand because she gets to display her sins for the world to see, while his burn deep inside his soul. If he only had one friend or enemy that knew the truth. Which is exactly what Hester came to tell him. She gathers her courage and tells him that, in fact, an enemy of his does know the truth and that enemy is Roger Chillingworth, her husband.

When she tells Dimmesdale this information, he changes. This can be seen through the line, ''Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown than Hester now encountered''. He buries his hands in his face and tells her that he thinks on some level that maybe he did know this. But, the fact that she kept it a secret from him, shame on her. Poor Hester, caught in the middle between being sworn to secrecy seven years earlier by her husband and letting down the man she loves. And, let's not forget the fact that she is still being publicly shunned by her community.

She asks for Dimmesdale's forgiveness and takes him into her arms, pressing his head against the letter A. She asks him again to forgive her and he says yes, because there are worse sinners in the world than the two of them. One of which is Roger Chillingworth, because he ''violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of the human heart''.

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