The Scarlet Letter Chapter 5 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 is a summary of Chapter 5 from Hawthorne's ''The Scarlet Letter''. The lesson also contains a brief overview of events leading to this chapter and a lesson overview.

What Leads to Chapter 5?

Hester Prynne is a woman in seventeenth-century, Puritan-controlled Boston. She has been found guilty of adultery and must wear a scarlet 'A' on her dress to proclaim her sin. She and her infant daughter, Pearl, are in prison in Boston and, when the novel begins, they are brought out to stand on the scaffold in the town so all may come and shame Hester for her sin and also her unwillingness to name her partner. As she stands on the scaffold, she sees a familiar face in the crowd. Her estranged husband, whom she has not seen in two years, has appeared. She is stunned and pretends to not recognize him. He questions people in the crowd as to the nature of Hester's crime and proclaims that her punishment is better than being put to death (the maximum extent of the law for adultery) because now, she will be a living example of sin for all to witness. Later, he visits her in jail and tells her his name is Roger Chillingworth now to protect his true identity. He forgives her for her adultery and reiterates his feelings that she is better off alive and shamed so she may be an example to others.

Chapter 5: Flash Forward

Chapter 5 begins three years after Chapter 4 ends. Hester has moved with Pearl to an abandoned house outside of town, far enough to be away from the people but not so far as to be entirely isolated. The most extreme punishment for adultery in Puritan New England was death, but Hester's choice to live in a constant state of shunning is, in a way, worse than death because she never experiences relief from the Puritans' hatred and disgust, nor is she given forgiveness from the townspeople, many of whom are still angry that she will not reveal her partner in crime's name. She was often the object of sermons and was haunted by the 'intimations' that others around her shared her sin.

Puritan Woman at the Hearth
Puritan Woman at the Hearth

Necessary Skills

The land on which Hester's home sits is not suitable for a garden or cash crops, so Hester supports herself and Pearl as a seamstress. Her scarlet 'A' is always visible and her sin is not forgotten, but her needlework is so skilled that townspeople come to her, including the Governor, for their mending and embroidery needs. While Puritan dress was very plain and drab, occasional decorative embroidery was employed for special occasions (very staid and circumspect ones, to be sure). Governor Bellingham, the head of Massachusetts Bay Colony (and an actual historical figure), hires Hester for her skills and has no qualms about being a hypocrite, engaging a marked criminal and sinner for his own needs while, at the same time, shunning and shaming her. She is never asked to create the white veil for a bride.

Governor Bellingham
Governor Bellingham

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