What Is "The Scarlet Letter" About?


Quick Answer

“The Scarlet Letter” is set in the 17th-century Puritan era of Boston. Hester Prynne and minister Arthur Dimmesdale have an adulterous relationship while Hester’s husband is out on sea, and a child is conceived. “The Scarlet Letter” is an in-depth look at Puritanical views of sex, guilt, self-torture and the community.

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What Is "The Scarlet Letter" About?
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Full Answer

The subject matter of “The Scarlet Letter” was close to its author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s own ancestors rounded up transgressors and burned women at the stake for “witchcraft” and adulterous crimes. The scarlet letter A was Hester Prynne’s public “badge of shame” sentenced to her to symbolize her participation in the act of adultery. Hester’s estranged husband secretly returns and assists the ailing minister who is wasting away from the psychological effects of shame. The husband, Roger Chillingworth, begins to sense a connection between Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne. Chillingworth secretly tortures Dimmesdale while providing him medical care, while Prynne only requests that the minister acknowledges her and their child in public. Hester and Arthur plan to run away to Europe together, but during his pre-departure sermon, he collaspes from the stress of admitting his shame. Hester and Pearl leave Boston, Chillingworth dies a year later, and Hester is buried with an A on a shared tombstone with Dimmesdale upon her later return and death.

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