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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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What is Chillingworth up to? He has his suspicions that Dimmesdale is the man he is looking for, the man who should have stood by Hester's side on the scaffold. Chillingworth now watches, listens, tests, and probes, until he finds what he is looking for: an A on Dimmesdale's chest (we might call it a psychosomatic sign) just like the letter worn by Hester Prynne.

Dimmesdale is the guilty man; he is also a guilt-ridden one. The secret the minister carries within him is burning to get out. He starts to confess in his sermons, but cowardice holds him back. He reels to the scaffold to stand vigil where Hester has stood and goes to the telltale spot, unseen, in the dead of night.

Dimmesdale's torment is increased by Chillingworth, who takes his revenge by playing on the minister's guilt. It is Hester who calls a halt to the physician's ugly game. She has seen how suffering has wasted Dimmesdale away. She accuses herself of leaving him-unknowing and unaware-a victim in her estranged husband's hands.


Hester meets Dimmesdale in the forest to tell him the truth about Chillingworth. The meeting reawakens passionate feelings in them both. Hester and Dimmesdale plan to escape. They will go to England, where Chillingworth cannot follow, and there they will build a new and better life.

Between the meeting in the forest and the day planned for escape, however, something snaps in Dimmesdale. The minister has a change of heart. He is a dying man, and he knows it. He holds himself together long enough to give the most triumphant sermon of his life. Then he mounts the scaffold (this time in daylight) to confess his sin and to die in Hester's arms.

The story has a postscript. Chillingworth dies with his victim and leaves his money to-of all people-Pearl. Hester and her daughter leave New England for Europe, where Pearl marries an aristocrat. Hester, now alone, returns to Boston where she resumes, of her own accord, the scarlet letter. Years later, when she dies, she is buried in a grave next to the minister's, where one tombstone, with an engraved letter A, serves for them both.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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