The Scarlet Letter Chapters 1-3 Summary

     Chapter 1 opens with description of one wooden building made of oak with iron spikes. Founders of the new colony decided to turn a portion of its lot it into cemetery, and another portion into a prison. Overgrown weed that surrounds the building contribute to its gloominess, with only one rose bush defying wilderness around it. The author hopes that this unusual sight of a flower among darnel has a symbolical meaning.

     In the following chapter, on a summer day, two hundred years ago, a bunch of people is gathered in the market place. They are curious and patiently waiting for someone to show up. The curious crowd consists of Puritans, both men and women, who are not as courteous as they will be in the years to come. Women are especially intrigued by the case, commenting it would have been better if they were the ones to judge to a culprit, since magistrates were too merciful to that woman. Wearing a badge as a punishment means nothing to the women who feel offended by the culprit's misdemeanor, concluding that the only suitable punishment should be death.

     As soon as the door of the prison open, gathered crowd is able to see the culprit. It is a young woman, very pretty, with sleek black hair and symmetrical face. Although her fate is sealed on this day, it does not seem to affect her, as she is gracious and looks stunning. She is holding a baby in her hands, squeezing it tighter to her chest as the crowd sets their eyes on her. Although it may seem that she is trying to protect the child from evil eyes, she is actually trying to cover an emblem on her chests. A letter "A" is embroidered with golden thread on a scarlet cloth and represents a part of her punishment, a mark that will differentiate her from other women. The letter "A" stands for "adultery," but so far, the narrator shares no information about her deeds.

     She is escorted to the scaffold, right in front of the church, were her punishment will be executed. A man standing behind her back exclaims her name, Hester Prynne, so loudly that everyone hears it and remembers it. Standing on a pedestal, she is now exposed to the crowd.

     The narrator does not seem to share the crowd's opinion. He describes Hester as dignified and lovely woman who resembles the Divine Maternity while standing on the scaffold with the baby in her hands. Conversely to the actual event, he defends Hester and judges the crowd, unwilling to see the suffering of this young woman.

     As she observes people staring back at her, she slowly shuts her eyes to the reality and gets lost in reminiscences of her childhood- her native village in Old England, her father's face, her late mother's. Then she recalls the memory of a continental city where new life waited for her with misshapen scholar. Those shifting scenes soon vanish and Hester comes back to reality.

     In the next chapter, one Indian in his native garb joins the crowd. He is in a company of another white man wearing strange costume. The white man is small in stature, wrinkled and ugly, yet obviously intelligent. If it was not for his shoulder, which is higher than the other, Hester would not have noticed him. He is staring at her, like the rest of the crowd. Interested in her case, he asks a random viewer to explain what is the ordeal all about, and a townsman unreservedly shares Hester's life story. He says that Hester was married to an English scholar, yet they lived in Amsterdam. He sent her to New England to prepare everything for his arrival, so that they can be together again. Two years has passed and no one has seen that scholar. Meanwhile, she has given a birth to a baby, which makes her an adulteress. The stranger then asks about the father of the baby, but the townsman does not know the answer, nor does anyone else, which is the core of the problem, as Hester refuses to give away his name. The stranger believes that the scholar should come personally and ask Hester about the father of the baby and the townsman cannot but agree with him, letting him know that the punishment for such sin is usually death, but as Hester is young, pretty and obviously tempted, the magistracy have decided to punish her by exposing her in public for three hours, and condemning her to wear a letter of shame on her chest for the rest of her life.

     Meanwhile, Hester, shaken to the core with the knowledge that the stranger is right in front of her eyes, lulls herself thinking that this evil crowd is now her protection. It is much better to see him from the distance than to be with him face to face. Involved in her thought, she hardly hears a voice behind her back, calling her name. In a gallery behind sits Governor Bellingham and several other officials, including clergymen. The one who addresses Hester is John Wilson, the eldest clergyman in Boston. He makes a public appeal in order to make her repent for her sins and reveal the name of her child's father, but Hester stubbornly keeps the secret to herself.

     Unable to make her speak, they escort her into a dungeon. As she walks towards the prison, people murmur about the scarlet letter throwing a lurid gleam.

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