The Scarlet Letter is a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne that was published in 1850. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, a young woman who is punished for committing adultery in the Puritan town of Boston. As a sign of her shame, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothing and stand on a scaffold for three hours to be publicly humiliated. Hester refuses to name the father of her child, and the townspeople grow angry at her beauty and quiet dignity.
One day, Hester is approached on the scaffold by a small, misshapen man who is actually her long-lost husband, who had been presumed lost at sea. When he learns of Hester’s adultery and the punishment she has received, he becomes angry and vows to find and punish the man who fathered Hester’s child. He takes on the new name of Roger Chillingworth and poses as a physician in order to get close to the man he believes is the culprit, the town’s minister, Arthur Dimmesdale.
Hester is eventually released from prison and settles in a cottage on the outskirts of town, where she raises her daughter, Pearl, on her own. Pearl is a strange and capricious child, and the townspeople suggest that she be taken away from Hester. Hester appeals to Dimmesdale for help, and he is able to persuade the town’s governor to let Pearl stay with her mother.
As Dimmesdale’s health begins to decline, Chillingworth, who has taken up lodgings with the minister, becomes suspicious of Dimmesdale’s guilt. He begins to apply psychological pressure to the minister, believing him to be Pearl’s father. One night, while Dimmesdale is sleeping, Chillingworth discovers a scarlet “A” on the minister’s chest, confirming his suspicions.
Dimmesdale becomes tormented by his guilty conscience and goes to the scaffold where Hester was punished years earlier. There, he admits his guilt to Hester and Pearl, but lacks the courage to do so publicly. Hester decides to reveal the truth to Chillingworth and convince him to abandon his pursuit of revenge in order to save his own soul. She tells him that he is her husband and that they must leave Boston together and start a new life in Europe.
Before they can leave, Dimmesdale gives a powerful sermon in which he confesses his sin and dies in Hester’s arms. Hester and Pearl leave Boston, and Chillingworth dies a broken man, unable to find the forgiveness he sought. The novel ends with Hester returning to Boston years later, still wearing the scarlet letter, but now with a sense of pride and acceptance for the choice she made and the punishment she received.