The Scarlet Letter Chapter 20 Summary

Instructor: Molly Richards

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

In Chapter 20 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne and the Reverend Dimmesdale feel renewed and excited as they wait out their plans to leave for Europe.


After meeting the in the forest and revealing Roger Chillingworth's (Hester's estranged husband) true identity, Hester and the Revered decide that in order to be together, they must leave the colony. They plan to leave the colony with Pearl and start over again in Europe. They return to town and the Reverend feels a renewed sense of energy and excitement that he hopes others do not see through.

The Plan

The Reverend Dimmesdale leaves ahead of Hester and Pearl, so as not to draw attention on their way back to town. He keeps looking back at the two, feeling excited and alive with their new plans to leave and live as a family. Going back to Europe where it is more crowded will allow them a chance to blend in and start new without drawing attention. He also feels that his health will be much better in Europe, as the ''Old World'' would ''secure him a home only in the midst of civilization and refinement . . .''.

It just so happens to be their luck as a boat arrived from Spain and would be leaving for England in three days. Hester, through her volunteer work, knows the captain and crew and would be able to secure three tickets. They would be traveling in secrecy, without anyone knowing. The timing could not be more perfect; the Reverend would deliver the Election Day sermon, his last one, the day before they leave.

A Changed Spirit

As Dimmesdale walks back through the forest to town, he feels his spirits and energy rise. He climbs, runs, and leaps as if nothing is wrong. Everything looks different to him, yet nothing has physically changed. It is the change that took place in the forest that allowed him to free himself of his guilt and shame. He wants so badly to shout out to the people he sees and say ''I am a changed man!'' He knows, though, that could only bring more him pain.

Wicked Thoughts

But it isn't all positive energy the Reverend is feeling; he also feels the urge to do and say impulsive, wicked, and wild things. On his way home, he sees one of his deacons, a kind man who addresses the Reverend with respect. While talking with him, the Reverend wants to shout out blasphemous, or offensive, things about the church. He has to bite his tongue, yet wants to laugh at what the deacon would say had he said those horrible things.

He has the same wicked thoughts when passing the eldest woman in the church, a pious, or holy, widow who missed her husband, children, and friends who had died before her. Despite her grief, she has lived a holy life through her Bible studies. In the past, every time Dimmesdale would see her, he would whisper in her ear a scripture passage that made her day. Yet when they meet this time, he cannot think of a single passage to whisper into her ear. Whatever he does whisper, because he can't remember, is not a kind or inspiring thought, but luckily, it seems to get past her. Again, he revels in the thought of saying something he shouldn't have.

Finally, he sees the youngest member of his church, a woman who was recently converted. She trusts him so much that he thinks with one evil look, all her innocence could be gone. He stops to talk to her, and then feels the devil telling him to drop ''a germ of evil'' on her. Fighting these temptations, he instead wraps his cloak around his face and ignores her entirely.

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