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Of course, no one can agree on what actually happened at the scaffold.
Some people say they saw a scarlet letter, similar to the one worn by Hester Prynne, engraved in Dimmesdale's flesh. Some think he minister etched the letter himself as a form of penance. Others think that Roger Chillingworth made it appear. And then some suggest that it appeared due to the "ever active tooth of remorse" (24.1).
And then there are the eternal optimists, who claimed they didn't see anything at all and that there's no way Dimmesdale could have been Pearl's father.
These people think that Dimmesdale chose to die in the arms of a fallen woman to demonstrate that we're all sinners in the eyes of God.
That's, um, a lot of planning for a dying man.
Anyway, the narrator tells us all that we should be honest, rather than hiding our worst traits and sins from the world.
You know, like the fact that you wear the same socks two days in a row or never throw out leftovers?
After Dimmesdale's death, Roger Chillingworth has no reason to live. He dies a year later and leaves all his property, in both England and in the U.S., to Pearl.
This makes Pearl the richest heiress in the New World, which is awesome.
It also means that Hester and Pearl can finally get out of town, which they do: one day, they just disappear from their cottage.
Hester Prynne's story becomes legend… until, one day, years later, a tall woman in a gray robe comes to the abandoned cottage where Hester and Pearl had lived.
As she goes in, she turns around long enough to display the scarlet letter on the bodice of her dress.
Whoa! Hester's back!
For the rest of her life, somebody sends Hester rich gifts, tokens, and ornaments—so someone's obviously looking after her.
The gossips also believe that Pearl is alive, married, and having kids, because they see Hester embroidering a baby garment.
But wherever Pearl lives, Hester has decided that New England is her real home. As the narrator says, "Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence" (24.11).
She wears her scarlet letter, even though she doesn't have to.
But the letter isn't a stigma anymore. Instead, it's a sign of her respect.
Instead of avoiding her, women actually seek her out for comfort and advice, and she helps them out with the wisdom she's gained through her years of suffering.
Just like Oprah.
So, finally, Hester gets her happy ending, right? Well, it depends on what you think of as "happy."
When she dies, she's buried near Dimmesdale... but not too near. And her gravestone, obviously, has a scarlet letter on it.