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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The Scarlet Letter is set in the seventeenth century, puritanical, New England colony of Massachusetts. The complete action is set in the town of Boston with the scenes shifting within it. The crucial scaffold scenes are set in the market place, while the decisive meeting of Hester and Dimmesdale is set in the forest. The novel, however, opens with a prison setting, foreshadowing the future seclusion, gloominess and condemnation of the protagonists.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
The protagonist of the novel who is an English woman and the wife of Roger Chillingworth. She is tried and condemned for her sin of adultery with Dimmesdale and charged to wear the scarlet letter, "A", an indication of adultery, on the bosom of her gown forever. Even though she has a daughter out of wedlock, she refuses to reveal who the father is. As a young woman, her youthful beauty, luxuriant hair, and excellent features are diminished by her self-effacing puritanical way of dressing. As an older lady, she returns to Boston where she is finally accepted for her kindness and service.
The young, handsome, and unmarried pastor of Hester's church. Apart from committing adultery with Hester, he is guilty of hiding his sin. His intense suffering and remorse, however, are reflected in his rundown physical appearance. He emerges as the tragic figure of the novel around whom revolves the plot's suspense and on whom the reader's attention is centered. Thus, he is also considered a protagonist, like Hester.
A scholarly physician who has sent his wife ahead of him to America. He fails to join her quickly, for he is captured by Indians from whom he gathers a knowledge of herbal medicine. He is an old, evil, vicious, ugly, and deformed man. His diabolical vengeance on Dimmesdale, while pretending to treat him, makes him the personification of evil.
The beautiful daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale. She is the living symbol of the scarlet letter and has peculiar traits that make her sometimes appear as a demon. Her love for nature and freedom, her vivacious spirit, her alienation, her rebelliousness, her inquisitiveness, and her innocent but symbolic comments reveal her distinct personality. She is, however, a product of the difficult situation into which she is born.
The governor of the colony. He is based on an actual person who served as the governor in Boston for several terms. He first appears during the scaffold scene and addresses Hester. Later, Hester approaches him to seek his help in retaining Pearl. During the second scaffold scene, he hears Dimmesdale's scream and wakes up, but does not recognize his voice or see him. He is present in the procession on the Election Day and witnesses the final revelation of Dimmesdale's guilt during the third scaffold scene. He represents the 'state' in the novel.
The eldest clergyman in Boston in the novel. He is also based on an actual person, an English minister who came to Boston in 1630. He convinces Dimmesdale to appeal to Hester to reveal her lover's identity. Later, he delivers a sermon on the sin of adultery. Like Governor Bellingham, he is present during all three scaffold scenes. He represents the puritanical attitude and stands for the Church in the novel.
The ill-tempered sister of Governor Bellingham in the novel. She is based upon another actual figure from history, who was executed for witchcraft. Because the fictional character is also believed to be a witch, she is given special powers. She appears to be conscious of Hester and Dimmesdale's adultery and their secret meeting in the forest. She alone dares to meet Hester in the open and invites her to join in the festivities when Hester goes to the Governor's house.
A worker in Dimmesdale's church. When he finds Dimmesdale's glove on the scaffold, he returns it to the minister and blames the devil for having dropped it there. He refers to the appearance of the scarlet letter in the sky and takes it to represent Angel.
The commander of the ship that is to take Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl away. He plays an important role in escalating the tension of the plot by informing Hester on Election Day that Chillingworth has also booked passage on his ship bound for Bristol.