The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3 Summary

Instructor: Meredith Spies

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.

This lesson is a summary of Chapter three from Nathaniel Hawthorne's ''The Scarlet Letter''. The lesson also includes a brief review of the events leading to Chapter three and a summary of the lesson itself.

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.

Hester Prynne and Pearl
Hester Prynne and Pearl

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.

Chillingworth Investigates

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.

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