The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter Chapter 20 Summary
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 20
The Minister in a Maze
- As Dimmesdale heads back to town, he glances back at Hester and Pearl, half-expecting that he just imagined the whole thing.
- Nope. Still there.
- He thinks about how they wanted to return to the Old World, and remember that there's actually a ship in the harbor at that exact moment, just waiting to sail for Bristol, England.
- Hester has met the captain and crew, so she should be able to secure passage for two adults and a child.
- They'll sail in four days, which will give Dimmesdale just enough time to leave his career on a high note by preaching his final sermon, the Election Sermon.
- (Quick Brain Snack: the "Election Sermon" was a sermon that basically meditated on the religious and civil duties of elected officials (and those who elect them) as allegedly laid out in the Bible. Pretty important stuff in a mid-17th century Puritan community.)
- When Dimmesdale gets back to town, though, he feels… weird.
- When he meets a deacon in the church, he almost blurts out some really blasphemous things.
- He even—prepare yourself—thinks about arguing against the immortality of the soul.
- And when he meets a new church member, he totally blows her off—making her wonder what she's done wrong.
- Oh, and he's tempted to teach some naughty words to some Puritan children playing by the road.
- He wonders if he is mad. Did he make a contract with the devil in the forest?
- Eh, we've all been there. Right?
- Just then, he passes the witch-lady Mistress Hibbins.
- She gives him a knowing smile and tell him to let her know next time he heads off into the woods, and she'll come along too.
- In fact, why doesn't join her at midnight in the forest, i.e., come to one of her fun witch parties?
- Now Dimmesdale is getting pretty nervous, wondering if he actually has sold his soul to the devil.
- Uh, actually, yes: the narrator says that deliberately choosing to sin is pretty much like dealing with the devil.
- "Wicked mortals" have a lot in common with "perverted spirits" (20.17).
- Back at his house, Dimmesdale is studying the Election Sermon (which he obviously wrote pre-encounter in the woods, since we'd hate to see what he came up with post-encounter), when Chillingworth comes in.
- Does he need medicinal strength for his sermon?
- Nope. In fact, he doesn't need any more of Chillingworth's drugs.
- Chillingworth mulls this over for a bit, and Dimmesdale starts to worry that he knows about the moment in the woods.
- He doesn't. But he does realize that Dimmesdale knows Chillingworth has it in for him. After a little back-and-forth about the medicine, Chillingworth finally leaves.
- Alone, Dimmesdale throws his Election Sermon in the fire and pulls an all-nighter writing a new one.
READ THE BOOK: Chapter 20