Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 12

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 12

The Minister's Vigil

  • Dimmesdale goes to the scaffold where Hester Prynne had lived through her public ordeal.
  • He stands there just waiting for someone to throw rotten fruit, but no one shows up.
  • (Maybe next time try going during the day, dude.)
  • He gives a little shriek, trying to rouse people to come shame him, but the only people who stir are Governor Bellingham and his sister.
  • Mistress Hibbins (the witch-lady from chapter 8) hears him, but the narrator tells us that she probably thinks that it's just her friendly neighborhood witches making a ruckus.
  • Dimmesdale calms down enough to notice that his friend and fellow clergyman Reverend Mr. Wilson is approaching.
  • He's coming from the deathbed of Governor Winthrop, looking all holy and saint-like with the glow of the lamp like a halo surrounding him.
  • He doesn't notice Dimmesdale lurking up on the platform, and Dimmesdale doesn't speak.
  • Dimmesdale imagines what would happen if he were still there in the morning, and he's apparently tickled by imagining his community discovering that their beloved minister is a huge sinner because he busts out laughing.
  • Surprise! Pearl laughs back at him.
  • He calls out and Pearl responds. Hester is also with her. They're heading back from Governor Winthrop's house, where she's measured his body so she can make his burial robe.
  • The two join him on the scaffold.
  • Dimmesdale and Hester are connected through Pearl, as each holds one of her hands.
  • Pearl asks him if he will stand with her and her mother tomorrow at noon.
  • No—but he will stand with them on the judgment day.
  • How comforting,
  • Just then, there's a bright light on the horizon, which is either a meteor or a big, fat symbol.
  • Also looking very symbolic right about now: the minister, with his hand over his heart; Hester Prynne, the scarlet letter on her heart; and Pearl, herself a symbol.
  • Pearl grins a little and points, and Dimmesdale sees what looks like an immense letter A marked out in red light.
  • And then he sees Roger Chillingworth, who Dimmesdale finally notices is looking kind of evil.
  • Pearl and Dimmesdale have a little squabble, which ends with Pearl basically telling them that he sucks for not promising to stand there with her and her mom.
  • Just then, Chillingworth steps forward and gets Dimmesdale to come home with him.
  • The next day, Dimmesdale gives an A+ sermon. As he comes down the pulpit-steps, the sexton hands him a glove, his glove, which the sexton had found on the scaffolding.
  • The sexton's theory? Satan must have dropped it there.
  • By the way, the sexton says, did Dimmesdale see the letter A in the sky last night? It was a portent of the death of Governor Winthrop, surely now an Angel.

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