Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 3

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 3

The Recognition

  • Standing on this public stage, Hester looks out and notices an American Indian and a white dude (who is dressed partly in American Indian traditional attire) standing on the outskirts of the crowd.
  • She recognizes the white man by the slight deformity in his shoulders and squeezes her baby again until it cries.
  • But the man just looks at her and puts a finger to his lips.
  • Helpfully for us, he questions a nearby citizen of the town about what's going on.
  • The woman is Hester Prynne. She's married to an Englishman who's been missing for two years.
  • Wait, but what about the kid?
  • That's just it. The 3-month-old baby makes it pretty clear that Hester's been up to something she shouldn't have.
  • The stranger asks who the father is, but nobody knows—Hester's not telling.
  • Meanwhile, Hester is up on the public stage thinking that she's glad she's encountered the stranger this way, with a crowed of people between her and him.
  • Everyone wants Hester to reveal the name of her partner in crime.
  • Her pastor, Reverend Dimmesdale, is particularly insistent. He wants her to 'fess up, even if the man she names has to step down from a high position of authority to join her on the stage.
  • This plea is so moving that even Hester's baby lifts its arms out to him, but she keeps her mouth shut.
  • Then, the townspeople engage in a crazy sort of mass hallucination, where the scarlet letter takes on a life of its own and they begin to see its scarlet glow as coming from the very fires of hell itself.
  • Who said the Puritans were boring?

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