Archetypes in The Scarlet Letter

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in The Scarlet Letter, the classic novel by Nathanial Hawthorne, which contains examples of various archetypes commonly seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in The Scarlet Letter?

In Hester Prynne, Hawthorne has created the archetypal martyr – a character who has sacrificed her own reputation and place in the world in order to protect the man she loves from receiving the same treatment which is being meted out to her.

In doing so she also becomes the archetypal outcast, shunned by society and living on its outskirts, isolated from the community in which she once was welcomed.

When her husband reappears she even sacrifices herself to protect his identity as well as that of Dimmesdale.

Hester also represents the archetypal mother, a nurturing and loving figure who is devoted to the wellbeing of her child and will do anything within her means to give her child the upbringing they deserve.

In Dimmesdale we see an archetypal victim, a man who shows only weakness in his unwillingness until the very end to admit to his sin and take his share of the blame which society casts on Hester.

Rather than seeking redemption through positive acts he seeks redemption through self-blame and punishment, seeing the world in a negative light.

Chillingworth can be seen as an archetypal villain, motivated only by his desire for vengeance against Dimmesdale he commits acts of mental torture on the man, driving Dimmesdale towards mental and physical illness in order to secure what he desires.

He seeks to hide his true identity from the world rather than help the wife he had wronged.

The Scarlet Letter Book Summary

  • In Puritan Boston a crowd gathers for the punishment of Hester Prynne, a young woman who has given birth to an illegitimate baby.
  • Hester is required to wear a scarlet “A” on her dress for the rest of her life to allow people to shame her, including standing on the scaffold for three hours.
  • The crowd demands she name the father but Hester refuses.
  • In the crowd Hester recognises her long-lost husband. He is told of his wife’s adultery and vows to find the father so he can be punished, choosing the new name Roger Chillingworth for himself.
  • Hester’s jailer brings in Chillingworth, now a doctor, to calm Hester.
  • They discuss their marriage and Chillingworth demands to know who the father is but Hester refuses.
  • Chillingworth accepts, believing he will discover it anyway, and warns that if she ever reveals him as her husband he will kill the child’s father.
  • On release from prison, Hester lives in a cottage earning a poor living. She and her daughter Pearl perform charitable acts for the poor.
  • Pearl, shunned like her mother, becomes unruly and her behaviour starts rumors which causes church members to suggest she be taken away. They allow Pearl to remain at the persuasion of the minister Dimmesdale.
  • Chillingworth goes to live with Dimmesdale, who’s health is failing.
  • Being in close contact with Dimmesdale, Chillingworth begins to suspect Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father.
  • He finds confirmation in the form of a symbol of his shame on the chest of the sleeping Dimmesdale.
  • Hester is troubled by Dimmesdale’s and warns him of Chillingworth’s plan for revenge, convincing him to travel to Europe with her to start anew.
  • However, on election day Dimmesdale confesses to the crowd and dies in Hester’s arms. Chillingworth dies soon after, leaving Pearl a substantial inheritance.
  • After some years Hester goes back to her cottage and starts wearing the scarlet letter again.
  • She dies and is buried near Dimmesdale. They share a tombstone with a red letter A.

The Scarlet Letter Archetype Examples

  • Martyr
  • Outsider

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

Discover Your Personality Type Today →