The Scarlet Letter Chapter 4 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 4 from Nathaniel Hawthorne's ''The Scarlet Letter''. The lesson also includes a brief overview of events leading to chapter four as well as a summary of the lesson.

What Leads to the Events in Chapter 4?

Hester Prynne has been found guilty of adultery in Puritan-controlled Boston. As her punishment, she is required to wear a scarlet letter 'A' embroidered on her dress and spend time in prison. She also is required to stand on a platform in the town to be on display as a sinner and allow the townsfolk to come and shame her publicly. She will not admit the name of her partner in crime and has embroidered her 'A' with flourishes and embellishments, making it anything but plain. This, along with her apparent lack of shame, infuriates the Puritans. While she is on the scaffold, holding her daughter, Hester sees a familiar face in the crowd but a stranger to the town. He gestures for her to look away, to keep quiet, and she does, pretending she does not know who he is. The stranger questions a nearby man about Hester and why she is there. The man tells the stranger the story of Hester's crime and complains that she should be put to death, which is the maximum punishment under law for adultery. The stranger assures him Hester's co-sinner will be revealed, and it is better she is kept alive, so she can be a living example of sin and always suffer for her crime by being shunned.

Hester Prynne and Pearl
Hester Prynne and Pearl

Pearl Won't Stop Crying

When Chapter 4 opens, Pearl, Hester's daughter with her unnamed partner in crime, will not stop crying. She and Hester are back in the jail after the public shaming and Hester cannot get her to calm down. A guard allows a doctor in to see to the baby. The doctor is Roger Chillingworth, the stranger, lying about his background and name. In fact, he is not truly Roger Chillingworth, but Roger Prynne, Hester's estranged husband using a false identity. Hester has not seen Roger for about two years but recognized him in the crowd during her shaming due to his distinctive appearance. He offers Hester and Pearl draughts of unnamed remedies. When Hester hesitates to give Pearl the remedy, Roger gives it to Pearl himself, and she is immediately comforted. Hester worries that he might be poisoning her with her remedy and mentions that she had thought of death before and would have prayed for death if she were worthy of prayer. She tells him to think twice about poisoning her and he offers her cold assurance he's not; she drinks the vial.

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