Friday, January 2, 2015

The Scarlet Letter - Notes

The Scarlet Letter, by Hugues Merle
v     Written in 1850, this story takes place two centuries earlier, around 1640.

v     This story takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, at the time a small town of Puritans.

v     Puritans were Christians who believed in living a pure life, free from sin, and free from control of the Church of England. They believed in the importance of attending mass (omša), and that music, dancing, and drinking were all terrible sins.

v     The Puritans also believed in witches, and killed twenty people during the Salem Witch Trials, in which children accused people of being witches, and adults believed them. This is how kids used to spend their free time before videogames, TV, and the internet. It's an embarrassing chapter in US history, and we use the phrase "witch trial" every time someone is accused or punished unfairly.

Cast of Characters:

Hester Prynne - a young woman, living in town, and the main character of the story.

Pearl -  Hester Prynne's daughter. She's a bit of a rebel, doing and saying strange things, that worry the other villagers.

Arthur Dimmesdale - a kind, young minister of the local church.

Roger Chillingworth - a doctor (of sorts) and Hester Prynne's husband, although he doesn't want anyone in Salem to know.

Reverend John Wilson - an older minister, with more authority than Dimmesdale.

Governor Bellingham - the Governor of Massachusetts.

Ann Hibbins - a witch who tries to tempt (pokušať) Hester into becoming a witch too. She's later executed (killed by the state, and it's a true story!). In the story she's Gov Bellingham's sister. In real life she wasn't.

The Plot (SPOILER ALERT!!!):

1. The story begins with Hester Prynne in jail, with her baby, Pearl (at this time, if a mother went to prison and was still nursing a baby, the baby went with her, and some died).

2. Hester is in jail because of the baby. She is a married woman who voyaged alone from Europe to Boston, expecting her husband to arrive soon after. He didn't. Two years later, Hester gave birth - far too long for it to have been her husband's child.

3. Normally, the punishment for adultery (cudzoložstvo) was death, but Hester's case is special because, first of all, where's her husband? Everyone figures his ship must have wrecked at sea. And second, hey, she's young and pretty.

4. So, Hester gets a different punishment. She must stand on a scaffold for three hours while people taunt her and throw things at her. Then, she must wear a scarlet 'A' on her chest for the rest of her life.

5. The ministers want to know who the father is, but Hester won't tell.

6. While Hester is standing on this scaffold, she looks down and sees, to her horror, her husband! He's chosen a false name for himself, Roger Chillingworth, and he gets permission to see Hester back in her jail cell––he tells the guard that, since he's a doctor, he can calm down the baby.

7. Hester is afraid he'll poison the girl, but he doesn't. He's angry, and he wants to know who the father is. Hester again refuses to tell.

8. Eventually, Hester is released from jail, and lives on her own, at the edge of town. Everyone thinks she's going to hell because of her sin. She makes money from sewing.

9. Several years later, Pearl is a child, and she misbehaves, and people think her hell-bound mom is a bad influence. They want to take the child from her.

10. Hester takes Pearl to Gov. Bellingham, begging for mercy. John Wilson and Arthur Dimmesdale are also present. Arthur convinces the others that Hester is the best guardian for Pearl. On the way out, the witch Ann Hibbins talks to Hester, and tries to tempt her to evil, but Hester ignores her.

11. Arthur Dimmesdale becomes sick, and no one knows why. Roger Chillingworth, being a "doctor" moves in with him. Roger notices Arthur seems to be hiding some secret guilt. One night, he checks on Arthur while he's sleeping, and sees a strange, shocking mark on Dimmesdale's chest.

12. Dimmesdale gets sicker and sicker, and Hester, fearing Roger is poisoning him, admits to him that Arthur is the father, and warns Roger that his own soul is in danger if he kills Dimmesdale.

13. Hester then goes to Dimmesdale, whom she still loves, and convinces him to join her and Pearl on a boat for Europe, where they can marry and live together normally. He agrees, but Pearl is angry, especially that her mother has taken off her scarlet A.

14. Hester waits by the boat, but is horrified to learn that Roger is also coming on the same boat - he won't leave Hester and Dimmesdale alone.

15. Dimmesdale gives one last mass before they are to depart, but falls ill and collapses outside of church. Facing death, he admits his sin, shouting that he's Pearl's father, and then rips off his vestment, showing a large A, cut into his chest. He then dies.

16. Roger is never accused of killing Dimmesdale, but seems very sorry for what's happened, seeing Hester's grief. He dies soon after, and leaves all his money to Pearl, who grows up and moves to England - the rest of her life is a mystery.

17. Hester lives alone, slowly gaining the respect of the town for her wisdom and advice, always wearing her scarlet 'A'. When she dies, she's buried next to Dimmesdale, with a single 'A' on her tombstone.

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