Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 24

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 24


  • 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.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • 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.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

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