The story circulates around a Puritan society in Massachusetts. It is
A young woman, Hester Prynne, has been found guilty of adultery and in
addition to a prison sentence she must wear a scarlet A on her dress as a sign of her sin.
Each day she has to stand on the scaffold where she is exposed to public
humiliation. She clutches her infant who is the product of her sin.
On this particular day, she notices a new face in the crowd.
It is that of her husband who she thought had been lost at sea. He has a twisted body and will be the main character of evil in this story. He makes her swear to keep his true identity secret. He adopts the pseudonym of Roger Chillingworth.
It becomes evident at an early stage that the father of her child is the
well-respected Reverend Dimmesdale. He in fact urges her to reveal her lover, as he does not have the courage to do this himself.
Eventually she is released from prison and instead of leaving the community
she takes up residence in a small cottage between the town and the wilderness.
As her child, Pearl, grows, she becomes more fascinated by the scarlet A
that her mother wears. She is precocious and wild when in the company of others, and is only peaceful when playing in the wilderness.
Hester learns that she may lose Pearl and so she goes to the Governor to
plead her case. Reverend Dimmesdale intercedes on her behalf and she is allowed to keep the child.
Chillingworth takes up the position of physician, and ends up moving in with
Dimmesdale as the Reverend’s health starts to fail. Chillingworth suspects that Dimmesdale is the Pearl's father, and sets about a campaign of revenge on the Minister.
Dimmesdale is consumed by guilt and this is the main reason for his failing
There are various supernatural elements to the story. These vary from
secret meetings in the woods; a symbol on the Minister’s chest – a scarlet A; to a light from meteor, which forms a giant A in the sky.
Seven years pass and Hester notices changes in both Dimmesdale and her
husband, Chillingworth, who now is an emissary of evil. She decides to ask Chillingworth to release her from the oath she made about his identity and he agrees.
She meets Dimmesdale in the forest where they agree to escape to Europe to
start a new life. At first Dimmesdale is inspired by this plan, but he soon loses heart when he returns to town.
Somehow, Chillingworth finds out about this plan, and he also books passage
on the ship.
Dimmesdale decides that he cannot leave until he declares his sin to his congregation, and he decides to do this after he has made his Election Day Sermon. This marks the climax of his clerical career and afterwards, he climbs the scaffold and with Hester and Pearl, he reveals his sign and shows the crowd the A upon his chest. Before he dies, he asks God to forgive Chillingworth, and is reconciled with his daughter, Pearl.
Hester and Pearl leave for Europe and it is believed that Pearl marries well
and has a family. Hester eventually returns to the community and when she dies, she shares a gravestone with Dimmesdale.