Scarlet Letter

Scarlet Letter, The.—A romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850. The heroine, Hester Prynne, was condemned to wear conspicuously the letter “A” in scarlet, token of her sin as mother of her child, Pearl, whose father was not known. She was first exposed in disgrace on a raised scaffold, then served a term in prison, and afterward gained a moderate support for herself and child by embroidering. She refused to reveal the name of the father, although she might then be allowed to lay aside the letter. He was always near, held an important position, and lived a life of wearing remorse. After his death Hester Prynne took her child to another country, but returned to spend her old age in seclusion and comfort in the same place that had witnessed her punishment. She always bore herself proudly, but not defiantly, and brought to herself such love and respect that the scarlet letter became a badge of honor. Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband, appeared as a learned foreign physician, visited her in prison, but promised not to reveal his relation to her, and devoted his life to learning her secret. The characters in the story are intense, and the analysis of motives subtle.