is the book’s protagonist and the wearer of the scarlet letter that
gives the book its title. The letter, a patch of fabric in the shape
of an “A,” signifies that Hester is an “adulterer.” As a young woman,
Hester married an elderly scholar, Chillingworth, who sent her ahead
to America to live but never followed her. While waiting for him,
she had an affair with a Puritan minister named Dimmesdale, after
which she gave birth to Pearl. Hester is passionate but also strong—she endures
years of shame and scorn. She equals both her husband and her lover
in her intelligence and thoughtfulness. Her alienation puts her
in the position to make acute observations about her community, particularly
about its treatment of women.
in-depth analysis of Hester Prynne.
illegitimate daughter Pearl is a young girl with a moody, mischievous
spirit and an ability to perceive things that others do not. For
example, she quickly discerns the truth about her mother and Dimmesdale. The
townspeople say that she barely seems human and spread rumors that
her unknown father is actually the Devil. She is wise far beyond
her years, frequently engaging in ironic play having to do with
her mother’s scarlet letter.
in-depth analysis of Pearl.
“Roger Chillingworth” is actually Hester’s husband
in disguise. He is much older than she is and had sent her to America
while he settled his affairs in Europe. Because he is captured by
Native Americans, he arrives in Boston belatedly and finds Hester
and her illegitimate child being displayed on the scaffold. He lusts
for revenge, and thus decides to stay in Boston despite his wife’s
betrayal and disgrace. He is a scholar and uses his knowledge to
disguise himself as a doctor, intent on discovering and tormenting
Hester’s anonymous lover. Chillingworth is self-absorbed and both
physically and psychologically monstrous. His single-minded pursuit
of retribution reveals him to be the most malevolent character in
in-depth analysis of Roger Chillingworth.
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
Dimmesdale is a young man who achieved fame in England
as a theologian and then emigrated to America. In a moment of weakness,
he and Hester became lovers. Although he will not confess it publicly,
he is the father of her child. He deals with his guilt by tormenting
himself physically and psychologically, developing a heart condition
as a result. Dimmesdale is an intelligent and emotional man, and
his sermons are thus masterpieces of eloquence and persuasiveness.
His commitments to his congregation are in constant conflict with
his feelings of sinfulness and need to confess.
Governor Bellingham is a wealthy, elderly gentleman
who spends much of his time consulting with the other town fathers.
Despite his role as governor of a fledgling American society, he
very much resembles a traditional English aristocrat. Bellingham tends
to strictly adhere to the rules, but he is easily swayed by Dimmesdale’s
eloquence. He remains blind to the misbehaviors taking place in
his own house: his sister, Mistress Hibbins, is a witch.
Mistress Hibbins is a widow who lives with her brother,
Governor Bellingham, in a luxurious mansion. She is commonly known
to be a witch who ventures into the forest at night to ride with
the “Black Man.” Her appearances at public occasions remind the
reader of the hypocrisy and hidden evil in Puritan society.
Reverend Mr. John Wilson
Boston’s elder clergyman, Reverend Wilson is scholarly
yet grandfatherly. He is a stereotypical Puritan father, a literary
version of the stiff, starkly painted portraits of American patriarchs. Like
Governor Bellingham, Wilson follows the community’s rules strictly
but can be swayed by Dimmesdale’s eloquence. Unlike Dimmesdale,
his junior colleague, Wilson preaches hellfire and damnation and
advocates harsh punishment of sinners.
unnamed narrator works as the surveyor of the Salem Custom-House
some two hundred years after the novel’s events take place. He discovers
an old manuscript in the building’s attic that tells the story of Hester
Prynne; when he loses his job, he decides to write a fictional treatment
of the narrative. The narrator is a rather high-strung man, whose
Puritan ancestry makes him feel guilty about his writing career. He
writes because he is interested in American history and because
he believes that America needs to better understand its religious
and moral heritage.