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MonkeyNotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 3: The Recognition


From the scaffold, Hester spies a small deformed man in the crowd and obviously recognizes him. The man also recognizes her and is horrified at the scene. When the man inquires about Hester, he is told that about two years ago she arrived in Boston from Europe without her scholarly husband, who was to join her later. She has not heard from him in the interim, a fact that probably helped her cause and lightened her sentence. Her punishment is a period of imprisonment, a public display on the scaffold for three hours, and the necessity of wearing the Scarlet Letter for the rest of her life, "a living sermon against sin." After telling how he has been held captive by Indians, the deformed man comments that "the partner of her iniquity should...stand on the scaffold by her side." He then exclaims several times, "He will be known!" It is not until later in the book that the reader realizes that this misshapened man is Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband.

Bellingham, the Governor of Boston, and Rev. John Wilson, the oldest minister, are also in the crowd. The senior churchman asks Rev. Dimmesdale, Hester's minister, to try and convince her to confess the name of her partner in sin, which she adamantly refuses to do. Rev. Wilson then preaches a long sermon about sin during which Hester tries to quiet the screams of her baby. Afterwards, she is led back to prison.


In this chapter, the other two main characters of the novel make their appearance. Both Chillingworth (Hester's husband, Roger Prynne, who has chosen this new name for himself) and Arthur Dimmesdale (Hester's lover) are in the crowd, but neither are identified in their relationship to her. The chapter also begins to build tension and suspense. It is obvious that Hester knows the deformed man in the crowd, and she seems bothered to see him there. He also recognizes her and signals that he wants his identity to be kept secret, a fact that reflects his crooked, scheming mentality. This little man also foreshadows the main plot of the story when he states that the father of the baby will be known!

In contrast to this deformed man who seems angered by Hester's presence on the scaffold, the reader is introduced to Hester's minister, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, who is truly grieved over Hester's shame. At the encouragement of a senior minister, Dimmesdale appeals to Hester to reveal the identity of her partner. To his unstated relief, the proud and stubborn Hester refuses to answer him. The rich irony of this scene between minister and parishioner is later realized when the reader knows that Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl and a coward who is afraid to admit his sin. It is one of the most masterful speeches in the entire novel.

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