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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Clutching her baby to her chest, the beautiful and poised Hester Prynne stands on the scaffold in the square of the small town of Boston. She is being punished for the adultery that she has committed. The townsfolk, especially the women, are not very happy about the fact that Hester has been punished only by making her wear a scarlet on her dress and standing on a scaffold for several hours of public humiliation. The judge has been lenient on her because the young woman has had a good reputation until the point of her sinfulness.
Hester has come to Boston from Amsterdam two years earlier. She is married to a misshapen scholar and physician who is much older than she. He has sent her alone to New England with plans to follow her at some later date. Since two years have passed with no word from him, Hester believes that he has been lost at sea.
As she stands on the scaffold, Hester notices two people in the crowd. The first is Arthur Dimmesdale, the leader of the local Puritan church and Hester's minister. The second man is Roger Chillingworth, her misshapen husband. When he realizes that his young wife is being publicly shamed for committing adultery, his anger knows no bounds. He clearly states that the man responsible for the act should also be punished along with Hester. He vows to find the unnamed father of the baby and have his revenge.
Even after consistent questioning by Reverend Wilson (the Church) and the Governor (the State), Hester refuses to disclose the name of the man who has committed adultery with her. When Chillingworth is admitted to her jail cell as a physician, he also questions Hester about the father's identity, and she again refuses to divulge the name. Angered by Hester's defiance, her husband warns her never to utter the truth about who he really is. Hester gives him her pledge.
Hester and Pearl move to a little thatched cottage on the outskirts of the town, where they live in isolation. She provides for their needs by sewing for both the rich and poor in town. She also makes Pearl brightly colored and extravagant clothing. The bright colors are a reflection of the child's very nature. She is a lively and impish child that her mother has difficulty controlling. Because of her wild behavior and the sinfulness of her mother, some of the important people in town suggest that Pearl should be taken away from Hester. The Governor and Rev. Wilson are ready to place the child with a guardian when Rev. Dimmesdale intervenes. He says that Pearl is a gift a God to her mother; she serves both as a blessing and as a constant reminder of the sin. As a result, Pearl is allowed to remain with Hester.