Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter What's Up With the Ending?

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

What's Up With the Ending?

When Chillingworth dies and leaves all his money to Pearl, mom and daughter can finally escape the judgy ways of the Massachusetts Bay colonists. In fact, they've been able to put an entire ocean between themselves and those stern Puritans. They live lavishly in England. The End.

Except not. Years later, Hester Prynne actually goes back to the community that's shunned her for so long. She goes back to her little cottage on the outskirts of town. She goes back to wearing her scarlet letter. Her adultery has become so much a part of her that she can't actually feel free unless she's doing penance by wearing that A.

The novel leaves us with a final picture of Hester and Dimmesdale's gravestone. They have been buried near one another (but not directly next to each other). A motto carved on the headstone they share ensures that their punishment follows them even into death: "on a field, sable, the letter A, gules." This motto is a verbal representation of the scarlet letter ("sable" means black and "gules" means reddish).

A final, tragic image? Maybe. But

We could interpret this persistent A as a tragic final image. However, the fact that Hester and Dimmesdale can be buried near each other suggests that the community has, in many ways, forgiven them for their adultery. Even after death, the legend of their love continues.

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