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The Scarlet Letter Chapter 24 Summary

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

Chapter 24 concludes Hawthorne's novel ''The Scarlet Letter''. This chapter serves as an epilogue, discussing what happens to Chillingworth, Pearl, and Hester Prynne after Dimmesdale dies.

Chillingworth's Legacy

According to an old account of Dimmesdale's death, the townspeople cannot agree about what they saw on the minister's chest. Although most are sure it was in the form of a red 'A,' they differ as to its cause: poison, magic, and self-mortification being among the most popular explanations for the scarlet mark. Some townspeople, however, claim they detected no mark whatsoever on Dimmesdale and hold that he was not an adulterer, but rather his words on the scaffold were meant as an allegory expressing the idea that all humans are guilty in the eyes of God.

One such man known for the 'Devil's work,' Roger Chillingworth, becomes weak and drained after Dimmesdale's death. Now deprived of someone to vent his hatred on, Chillingworth dies shortly after Dimmesdale and leaves a large portion of his estate to Hester Prynne's daughter, Pearl.

Hester's Legend

Now immensely wealthy, Pearl disappears with her mother. The tale of Hester Prynne's scarlet letter nevertheless becomes ever more popular as the years go by. Now legendary, the events of Hester's life fascinate the townspeople, who occasionally hear rumors about her current life, though none can be confirmed. Even in her absence, her house, like the scaffold where Dimmesdale died, attracts many visitors, including children who like to play near her seaside cottage.

As the children play near her cottage one afternoon, Hester, draped in 'a gray robe,' suddenly reappears, years after her disappearance. As she moves toward the door to go inside, the children observe the red letter on her bosom.

Hester's New Life

Indeed, Hester does not give up the scarlet letter. No longer an emblem of shame, the 'A' becomes a symbol revered by the townspeople. Women visit Hester to seek her advice about their own painful experiences with love. She comforts the women, saying that 'in Heaven's time, a new truth would be revealed'--one that will allow both men and women to enjoy 'mutual happiness.'

Hester may have found such a love herself, at least according to some of the townspeople who note the letters and gifts she receives from overseas. These gifts include expensive trim and embellishments, such as the luxurious gold she has been spotted using to craft an infant's gown. Whether or not the clothes are for Pearl's infant, no one knows. Pearl's fate and whereabouts remain secret, although many gossips claim to know that she is happily wed and would be delighted to have Hester with her at her home. Hester, though, has made peace in her own home. Once avoided as an adulteress, Hester is now valued for her unselfishness and devotion to alleviating others' distress.

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