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Laura Amy Schlitz

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3. Plot: There is one. Eventually.

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
Famous for: That scarlet letter “A”, the tormented Reverend Dimmesdale, and fiendish husband Roger Chillingworth.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, is a psychological novel.The Scarlet Letter is mostly a book about psychology. Here’s something your English teacher might not tell you, (but we will):

When someone tells you a book is “psychological,” that’s code for…

There’s not a lot of action in this story

Which is why it’s so important to think of The Scarlet Letter as three separate, but interconnected, journeys—taken by three separate, but interconnected, characters.

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Character #1 is Hester Prynne. She’s your main character, and her journey is the most important, and the most substantial. When we first meet Hester, she’s facing public shaming after a stint in jail. Soon enough, though, she’s out on her own, trying to forge a place for herself in a community that stands in constant judgment of her. Hester’s journey is all about two things: her need to atone for her sins, and the way she attempts to rise above guilt, even though she still harbors feelings for her partner-in-adultery.

Character #2 is Arthur Dimmesdale. He’s Hester’s partner in sin, but while Hester’s journey is about atonement, Dimmesdale’s is all about falling deeper and deeper into a chasm of guilt. Because no one knows of his crime, Dimmesdale is never publicly punished. That’s why he takes it upon himself to punish himself in private. His guilt eventually eats away at him so viciously that he dies. Character

Character #3 is Roger Chillingworth. He plays a role in Dimmesdale’s death, too. See, just as Dimmesdale’s guilt is eating away at him, Chillingworth’s response to Dimmesdale’s sin and guilt is also eating away at Chillingworth.

Chillingworth is Hester’s estranged husband, and he’s determined to punish Dimmesdale for fathering a child with his wife. This is Chillingworth’s journey through the novel: a descent into greater and greater evil and darkness as he exacts his unrelenting revenge.


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