The Scarlet Letter Chapter 23 Summary

Instructor: Molly Richards

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

In chapter 23 of Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter,' Dimmesdale delivers his most powerful sermon ever, and then makes a choice that will forever change his fate, as well as Hester and Pearl's.

A Memorable Parade

It's Election Day and the whole town has turned out to see the parade. Hester and Pearl stand in the crowd while Dimmesdale makes his way with the procession. Dimmesdale looks different -- he seems healthier and has a certain sense of pride about him. He is preparing to deliver his most important sermon ever and then leave with Hester and Pearl to England.

What Dimmesdale doesn't know is Hester has learned that Roger Chilligworth, her estranged husband, has arranged to bring Dimmesdale on board the ship the following day. This news upsets Hester, and as she listens to Dimmesdale's sermon outside by the scaffold, she is worried about what will become of their fate.

Sermon of a Lifetime

The crowd is so large at the hall where Dimmesdale is delivering his sermon that people stand outside to listen. Although words cannot be made out, his voice carries like a song. When it ends, people come rushing out of the church and cannot stop talking about what an amazing sermon it was. ''Never had man spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit'', they say. Dimmesdale's words have the underlying tone that soon he will die and leave them, because despite his angelic sense of being, his time on Earth is only transitory, or not permanent.

The Reverend, standing in the church at the end of his sermon, is living his highest moment. He is so revered, honored and loved by those in the colony. Meanwhile Hester stands out at the scaffold where she was first publicly shamed seven years before, yet she had not given up the name of her child's father (we now know that the father is Dimmesdale).

A Changed Dimmesdale

The procession leads out of the hall with the band, the town leaders, and the clergymen, including Dimmesdale. But Dimmesdale looks different than when he processed to the church. He is pale, limping, and aged, almost as if he is near death. As he makes his way, he refuses the help of others, and then finds himself standing at the scaffold. The procession continues, but when his eyes fall on Hester and Pearl, he stops and cannot continue on.

A Scaffold Sermon

Dimmesdale walks onto the scaffold and calls for Hester and Pearl to join him. Pearl flies onto the scaffold like a bird while everything inside Hester wants to resist. Seeing this spectacle, Roger Chillingworth makes his way to the front of the crowd and warns the Reverend to stop what he is doing and save his honor. Dimmesdale looks at Chillingworth, the physician who has silently tormented him for so long, and tells him that his power is gone...''With God's help, I shall escape thee now!''

Again the Reverend calls to Hester, saying that he needs her strength in his last moments of life. She takes his hand and she, the Reverend and Pearl all stand together on the scaffold. Hester questions Dimmesdale and why he is doing this when they already had plans, but he tells her that he is dying and wants to make things right. Holding hands with Pearl and Hester, Dimmesdale faces the crowd and once again begins to speak.

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