In the introductory essay to the novel tells of the author’s native city – Salem, his ancestors – puritan fanatics, his work in the Seyme customs and the people he had to face there. “Neither the ceremonial, nor the back door of customs does not lead to paradise,” and the service in this institution does not contribute to the flowering of good inclinations in people. Once, rummaging in the papers, piled in a huge room on the third floor of the customs house, the author found a manuscript of a certain Jonathan Pew, who died eighty years ago. This was the life story of Esther Prin, who lived at the end of the 17th century. Together with the papers, a red flap was kept, which on closer inspection turned out to be an amazingly embroidered letter “A”; When the author put it to his chest, it seemed to him that he felt a burn. Dismissed after the victory of the Whigs, the author returned to literary pursuits,
Out of Boston’s prison, Esther Prin comes out with a baby in her arms. She wears a beautiful dress, which she sewed herself in prison, on his chest a scarlet embroidery in the form of the letter “A” – the first letter of the word Adulteress (adulteress). Everyone condemns the behavior of Esther and her defiant outfit. They take her to the market square to the platform, where she has to stand up to one o’clock in the afternoon under the hostile views of the crowd – this punishment brought her judgment for her sin and for refusing to give the name of the father to her newborn daughter. Standing beside the pillory, Esther recalls her past life, her childhood in old England, an elderly hunched scholar with whom she tied her destiny.
Looking around the crowd, she sees in the back rows of a man who immediately seizes her thoughts. This man is not young, he has a penetrating view of the researcher and the hunched back of the indefatigable worker. He questions others about who she is. They are surprised that he did not hear anything about her. But he explains that he is not from here, he was a slave to the pagans for a long time, and now the Indian brought him to Boston to get ransom. He is told that Esther Prin is the wife of an English scholar who decided to move to New England. He sent his wife ahead, and he stayed in Europe. Esther did not receive any news from him in two years of life in Boston: he probably died. The lenient court took into account all extenuating circumstances
and did not condemn the fallen woman to death, and sentenced him only to stand for three hours on the platform at the pillory, and then for the rest of his life to bear a sign of dishonor on his chest. But she is indignant that she did not name the partner of sin. The oldest Boston priest, John Wilson, urges Esther to reveal the name of the seducer, followed by a young pastor Dimsdale, whose parishioner she was, after her interrupted voice. But the young woman stubbornly remains silent, holding her child tightly to her chest.
When Esther returns to prison, the stranger she saw on the square comes to her. He’s a doctor and calls himself Roger Chillingworth. First of all, he calms the child, then gives the medicine Esther. She is afraid that he will poison her, but the doctor promises not to avenge either the young woman or the baby. It was too presumptuous of him to marry a young beautiful girl and wait for her reciprocal feelings. Esther was always honest with him and did not pretend to love him. So they both inflicted evil and quits on each other. But Chillingworth wants to know the name of beloved Esther, the name of the person who caused evil to both of them. Esther refuses to name him. Chillingworth forces her to swear that she will not reveal to anyone his real name and his relationship with him. Let everyone think that her husband is dead. He decides to learn by all means,
After leaving the prison, Esther settles in an abandoned house on the outskirts of Boston and earns a living by handicraft. She is such a skillful embroiderer that she does not have a fast from the customers. She buys only what she needs, and gives the rest to the poor, often hearing insults instead of gratitude. Her daughter Pearl is beautiful, but has a passionate and changeable temper, so Esther is not easy with her. Pearl does not want to obey any rules. Her first conscious impression was the scarlet letter on Esther’s chest.
The seal of rejection lies on the girl: she is not like other children, she does not play with them. Seeing the strangeness of the girl and desperate to find out who her father is, some townspeople consider her a devilish offspring. Esther never parted with her daughter and everywhere takes her with her. One day they come to the governor to give them a pair of ceremonial embroidered gloves. The governor is not at home, and they are waiting for him in the garden. The governor returns with the priests Wilson and Dimsdale. On the way, they said that Pearl is a child of sin and should take it away from his mother and hand over to others. When they inform Esther about this, she does not agree to give her away. Pastor Wilson decides to find out if Esther brings her up in a Christian spirit. Pearl, who knows even more than she believes in her age, is stubborn and the question of who created it answers, that no one had created it, just her mother found her in a rose bush at the door of the prison. Pious gentlemen are horrified: the girl is three years old, and she does not know who created it. They decide to take Pearl from her mother, and she manages to leave her daughter with her only thanks to the intercession of Pastor Dimsdale.
Knowledge in medicine and piety have earned Chillingworth respect for the people of Boston. Soon after his arrival, he elected Reverend Dimsdale as his spiritual father. All the parishioners highly esteemed the young theologian and were concerned about his health, which had deteriorated sharply in recent years. People saw in the arrival in their city of a skilled doctor the finger of Providence and insisted that Mr. Dimsdale turn to him for help. As a result, the young priest and the old doctor became friends, and then even settled together. Chillingworth, who took up the investigation of the mystery of Esther with the severe impartiality of the judge, increasingly falls under the power of a single feeling – revenge, which dominates his whole life.
Feeling the ardent nature of the young priest, he wants to penetrate into the hidden depths of his soul and for this he does not stop at nothing. Chillingworth all the time provokes Dimsdale, telling him about the unrepentant sinners. He claims that at the heart of the physical affliction of Dimsdale lies a spiritual wound and persuades the priest to reveal to him, to the doctor, the cause of his spiritual suffering. Dimsdale exclaims: “Who are you to become between the sufferer and his Lord?” But one day a young priest falls asleep firmly in the afternoon in the armchair and does not wake up even when Chillingworth enters the room. The old man approaches him, puts his hand on his chest and unbuttons the clothes that Dimsdale never took in the presence of a doctor. Chillingworth triumphs – “so Satan behaves when he is convinced,
One night Dimsdale goes to the market square and stands at the pillory. At the dawn pass Esther Prin and Pearl. The priest calls them, they go to the platform and stand next to him. Pearl asks Dimsdale if he will stay here with them tomorrow afternoon, but he replies that on the day of the Last Judgment they will stand all three of them before the throne of the great judge, but now is not the time and daylight should not see them threesome. The dark sky suddenly lights up – it’s probably a meteor light. They see not far from the platform of Chillingworth, who is staring at them. Dimsdale tells Esther that he feels an unspeakable horror before this man, but Esther, bound by an oath, does not reveal to him the secrets of Chillingworth.
Years go by. Pearl is seven years old. The impeccable behavior of Esther and her unselfish help to the suffering lead to the fact that the inhabitants of the town begin to treat her with a kind of respect. Even the scarlet letter seems to them a symbol of not sin, but of inner strength. One day, while walking with Pearl, Esther meets Chillingworth and is amazed at the change that has taken place in him in recent years. The calm, wise face of the scientist acquired a predatory, cruel expression, the smile looks like a grimace. Esther talks to him, this is their first conversation since the time when he took an oath with her not to reveal his real name. Esther asks him not to torment Dimsdale: the suffering that Chillingworth exposes him is worse than death. In addition, he is tormented in front of his sworn enemy, not even knowing who he is. Esther asks why Chillingworth does not take revenge on her; he answers, that he was avenged by the scarlet letter. Esther begs Chillingworth to think better, he can still be saved, because this hatred turned him from a wise, just man into a devil. In his power to forgive, the forgiveness of the people who inflicted his grievances would be his salvation. But Chillingworth can not forgive, his destiny is hatred and revenge.
Esther decides to open Dimsdale that Chillingworth is her husband. She is looking for a meeting with the priest. Finally she meets him in the forest. Dimsdale tells her how he suffers because everyone considers him pure and unblemished, while he tarnished himself with sin. He is surrounded by lies, emptiness, death. Esther discovers to him who hides under the name of Chillingworth. Dimsdal is furious: because of Esther’s fault, he “exposed his feeble criminal soul before the eyes of one who secretly mocked her.” But he forgives Esther. Both of them believe that the sin of Chillingworth is even worse than their sin: he encroached on the shrine of the human heart. They understand – Chillingworth, knowing that Esther is going to reveal Dimsdale his secret, is devising new machinations. Esther offers Dimsdale to flee and start a new life. She negotiates with the skipper of the vessel, sailing to Bristol,
The ship should sail after three days, and on the eve of Dimsdale is going to read the sermon in honor of the election day. But he feels like his mind is racked. Chillingworth offers him his help, but Dimsdale refuses. The people gather in the market square to hear Dimsdale’s sermon. Esther meets a skipper from the Bristol ship in the crowd, and he tells her that Chillingworth will also swim with them. She sees on the other side of the square Chillingworth, who smiles ominously at her. Dimsdale gives a brilliant sermon. The festive procession begins, Dimsdale decides to repent before the people. Chillingworth, realizing that this will alleviate the sufferings of the sufferer, and feeling that the victim is eluding him, rushes to him, begging not to bring shame on his holy dignity. Dimsdale asks Esther to help him climb the platform. He stands at the pillory and repents of his sin before the people. In conclusion, he tears off the priestly scarf, exposing his chest. His eyes fade, he dies, his last words are praise to the Most High. Various rumors creep through the city: some say that there was a scarlet letter on the priest’s chest-the exact likeness of the one worn by Esther Prin. Others, on the contrary, claim that the priest’s breast was clean, but, feeling the approach of death, he wished to emit a spirit in the hands of a fallen woman, in order to show the world how dubious the righteousness of the innocent of men is.
After Dimsdale’s death, Chillingworth, who lost the meaning of life, immediately became deaf, the spiritual and physical strength left him at once. Less than a year had passed since he died. All his great fortunes he bequeathed to a little Pearl. After the death of the old doctor, Esther and her daughter disappeared, and the story of Esther became a legend. After many years, Esther returned and voluntarily put on the emblem of shame. She lives alone in her old house on the outskirts of Boston. Pearl, apparently, happily married, remembered her mother, wrote to her, sent gifts and would be glad if Esther lived with her. But Esther wanted to live where her sin occurred, – she believed that there must be atonement and redemption. When she died, she was buried next to Pastor Dimsdale, but between the two graves there was a gap, as if after death, the ashes of the two had no right to mix.