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ANALYSIS OF PLOT STRUCTURE
The Scarlet Letter is a unified, masterfully written novel. It is structured around three crucial scaffold scenes and three major characters that are all related. The story is about Hester Prynne, who is given a scarlet letter to wear as a symbol of her adultery. Her life is closely tied to two men, Roger Chillingworth, her husband, and Arthur Dimmesdale, her minister and the father of her child. Her husband is an old, misshapen man who Hester married while still in Europe. Chillingworth sends her ahead of him to New England, and then does not follow her or correspond with her for two years.
Ironically, he shows up on the day that Hester is publicly punished for her sin of adultery. It is the first of the three scaffold scenes. Hester stands alone, clutching her infant. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale stand in the crowd watching her. Chillingworth is incensed over her sinfulness and vows to find out the identity of her partner so that he can have his revenge.
Chillingworth tries to make Hester divulge the identity of her lover, but she staunchly refuses. It does not take Chillingworth long, however, to ascertain that Arthur Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl. The minister, who struggles to hide his sin from his congregation, is tormented by Chillingworth. As a result, Dimmesdale suffers from failing health as well as from his guilt. He tries to confess and cannot find the courage to do it. He even mounts the scaffold one night and calls Hester and Pearl to his side -- but it is under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately, Chillingworth watches this second scaffold scene in the darkness. He now has his final proof that Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl. His revenge intensifies.
Hester realizes what is going on between Dimmesdale and Chillingworth and gains permission from her husband to reveal his true identity to the minister. Dimmesdale is devastated by the news and agrees to flee Boston with Hester and Pearl. He will do anything to escape the hold that Chillingworth has on him. In the end, however, Dimmesdale realizes that he can only be rid of his tormentor by publicly acknowledging his guilt. At the end of the novel, on Election Day, Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold with Hester and Pearl again. This third scaffold scene is in the light of day and before a crowd. With his family at his side, Dimmesdale finally confesses his sin and shows the scarlet "A" on his chest. He then dies peacefully.
Hawthorne has perfectly structured The Scarlet Letter around three scaffold scenes. At the first one, located in the very beginning of the novel, Hester openly confesses her sin of adultery in the light of day while Dimmesdale and Chillingworth look on from the crowd that has gathered. The second scaffold scene occurs in the middle of the book and is the climax of the plot. Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold alone and calls for Hester and Pearl to join him. It is not a public confession, however, for it is done in the cover of darkness with no witnesses, except for the evil Chillingworth, who now has his proof that Dimmesdale is Pearl's father. The third and final scaffold scene occurs at the end of the novel. Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold again with Hester and Pearl at his side. This time it is in the light of day and before a crowd, and he publicly confesses his sin. He has won his personal victory.