Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.
The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Summary
What Led to Chapter 3 of The Scarlet Letter?
Hester Prynne, a resident of Boston in Massachusetts colony, has been found guilty of adultery. She will not reveal the name of the baby's father. As part of her punishment, she must stand on a platform for the town to come shame her. She also must embroider an 'A' for adultery on her dress. Hester angers the townspeople by not appearing shamed as she stands on the platform, holding her infant daughter Pearl. Also, she has made the 'A' on her dress very elaborate, embellished, and rich. It is in contrast to the dark, severe, plain clothing of the Puritans of Boston. Unbeknownst to the Puritans, Hester has a husband from whom she has been separated for a long while. As she stands on the platform, she thinks of her life before Boston and she thinks of her husband. The narrator notes the contrast of the rose by the prison door to the depressing presentation of the town and the contrast of Hester with the Puritans.
A Familiar Face
As Hester stands on the platform, she sees a man, a stranger, at the edge of the crowd. He is dressed in European- and Native American-style clothing and is slightly hunched, with one shoulder higher than the other. She recognizes him and he makes a gesture to silence her. She looks away, squeezing Pearl so tightly that the baby cries out. Hester is horrified to see this stranger, standing in the crowd and witnessing her shaming. The stranger is equally shocked and horrified at seeing Hester not just being shamed, but holding an infant.
The stranger asks a man near him in the crowd about Hester's story. He is told that Hester had arrived from England, the wife of an academic who had remained in Amsterdam (the Puritans had been alternately kicked out of England, welcomed in Holland, and then kicked out of Holland before many settled in the colonies of America). She lived for two years in Boston before turning to sin, the man tells the stranger. Then the stranger asks who the baby's father is, and the townsman tells him that Hester will not say and that perhaps her husband should come from Europe and ask her himself. The man also expresses disappointment that Hester did not receive the maximum punishment under law--execution. The stranger suggests that perhaps this punishment is better, because now she is a living sermon against sin.
He Will Be Known
The stranger tells the man with whom he has been speaking that the father of Hester's baby will surely be revealed and he repeats the phrase 'he will be known' several times. While Hester is still on the platform, Mr. Wilson, who is one of several local ministers, tells Hester she must reveal the name of her partner in sin. When she steadfastly refuses, Mr. Wilson calls on Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester's pastor, to question Hester about the baby's father. Hester again refuses to name him. Mr. Wilson, enraged, delivers a long and fiery sermon about the nature of sin and condemning sinners to Hell. Hester is returned to her cell with Pearl after Mr. Wilson is done.
Hester is still atop the platform, being shamed by the town for her sin, holding Pearl and wearing her scarlet 'A.' She notices a stranger in the crowd, and their eyes meet. He gestures for her to be silent, so she looks away. The stranger asks a nearby man what Hester is doing there. The man tells him Hester's story (as far as he knows it) and the stranger remarks that her partner in sin will be known, no matter what Hester says. Mr. Wilson, one of several local ministers, asks Hester to reveal her partner in sin but Hester refuses. Angered, Wilson calls for Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester's pastor, to questions her and she refuses to tell him as well. Hester is returned to her cell after Wilson delivers a blistering sermon on the nature of sin.
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