The Devil in Manuscript

The story is written in first person, by an individual who is observing an author. The author is frustrated, he has tried repeatedly to get his tales published and finds no takers in the literary marketplace. His work also gives him a horrible sense of dread that the devil is in it, and so he decides to burn his manuscripts.
Now Hawthorne spends much time at the beginning of the tale describing the cold night. It is snowless, yet it is bitterly cold, the observer tells us as he is on the way to the author's office. The author has an unnamed mentor, a jurist who is away hearing other cases. So the two are alone.
The tales burn in the fire, leaving white ashes. As they burn, the observer and author can see the faces of characters, and even a hint of the devil. Then, the ashes are swept by some unseen force up the chimney, and then every building in the neighborhood, perhaps even in the town, either is on fire or in danger of catching fire. People are running around hysterically, furniture is being thrown from windows. It's a traumatic scene.

The last lines of this work read :
"My tales!" cried Oberon. "The chimney! The roof! The Fiend has gone forth by night, and startled thousands in fear and wonder from their beds! Here I stand,--a triumphant author! Huzza! Huzza! My brain has set the town on fire! Huzza!"

The Scarlet Letter 

The Scarlet Letter follows the public shaming and punishment of a young woman named Hester Prynne in mid-17th century Boston(a.k.a. the Massachusetts Bay Colony). When Hester becomes pregnant, everyone believes her to be guilty of adultery: she has been separated from her husband for two full years, and the baby cannot be his. The magistrates (local law enforcers) and ministers order her to wear a scarlet letter "A" on the bodice of her dress, so that everyone can know about her adultery. 

The Scarlet Letter begins when Hester is briefly released from prison so that she can be paraded through town, displaying her scarlet "A" while standing on top of the town scaffold (a public stage). She carries her baby daughter, Pearl, in her arms. Pearl was born in prison. Hester steadfastly refuses to reveal the name of Pearl’s father, so that he might be saved from punishment. 

Hester Prynne’s long lost husband arrives in the midst of this parade through town. He visits her in prison before her release and asks her not to tell anyone that he’s in town. His plan is to disguise himself so that he can ferret out and seek revenge on her lover. 

Hester’s husband tells the townspeople that he’s a physician, and he adopts a fake name: Roger Chillingworth. Hester keeps his secret. Chillingworth soon realizes that the minister, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, is the likely father of Hester’s baby, and he haunts the minister’s mind and soul, day and night, for the next seven years. 

The minister is too afraid to confess his sin publicly, but his guilt eats away at him; Chillingworth’s constant examination really makes him antsy. Seven years pass and, finally, Hester realizes the evil her husband has done to the man she loves, the father of her child. She reveals Chillingworth’s true identity to Dimmesdale, and the two concoct a plan to leave Boston and go to England, where they might hide from Hester’s husband and create a new life together. 

The minister is ultimately unable to go through with the plan. Dimmesdale confesses his sin to the townspeople on the scaffold that had, seven years earlier, been the scene of Hester’s public shaming. His dying act is to throw open his shirt so that the scarlet A that he has carved onto his chest is revealed to his parishioners. Dimmesdale finds peace through confession. 

When Chillingworth dies approximately a year after his rival, Dimmesdale, he leaves all his money and property to Pearl. Hester and Pearl finally escape the community where they have been outcasts for so many years and return to the Old World (a.k.a. England). However, many years later, Hester returns to the New England community that had been the site of her shame, resuming the scarlet letter of her own will. 

When she dies, she is buried near the minister, and they share a gravestone. The gravestone contains an image, described as follows: "On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." In other words, marked on the headstone is a scarlet letter A drawn over a black background.

The Birthmark

Aylmer is a late 18th-century scientist who is totally and completely committed to his work. His entire life has been about figuring out the way that nature works, to the detriment of his personal and social life. However, just recently, he has put down his test tubes long enough to marry a beautiful woman, Georgiana.

Now, Georgiana is distinctive in that she has a small red birthmark on her cheek in the shape of a tiny hand. Most men who pursued her found the birthmark attractive; some catty women said that it messed up an otherwise perfect face. Georgiana has always liked it, until Aylmer brings up the topic one day soon after their marriage. He doesn't like the birthmark; he thinks Georgiana would be perfect if it were removed.

Georgiana falls completely to pieces. Because Aylmer thinks the birthmark is ugly, she now thinks herself ugly, and both partners become increasingly unhappy in their marriage. In Aylmer's mind, the birthmark becomes the symbol of human imperfection. Some time later, Aylmer tells his wife of a dream he had, in which he tried to surgically remove the birthmark. The deeper he cut, he explains, the deeper the birthmark went, until it was a part of Georgiana's very heart. In the dream, he wanted to keep cutting through her heart to get it out.

Georgiana is so upset by this dream that she tells Aylmer to figure out a way to get rid of the birthmark. Aylmer has already been working on such a plan. He takes Georgiana into his laboratory, where he has set up a special room for her to hang out while he devises an elixir with which to remove the birthmark. In the laboratory we meet Aminadab, Aylmer's assistant, who is stocky and earthly in contrast to the spiritual and lofty Aylmer.

When the elixir is finally ready, Aylmer brings it to his wife, who drinks it and falls asleep. Sure enough, the birthmark fades almost entirely from her face. Aminadab laughs at the outcome rather cryptically. Sadly, Georgiana wakes up, she tells Aylmer that she is dying. Then, as we might expect, she dies. Aminadab laughs again, which we have to say is rather untactful. The narrator then takes over for the conclusion to tell us that Georgiana couldn't live as a perfect being, since human beings are necessarily imperfect. Also, he says, Aylmer is kind of an idiot for throwing away a good thing (a good thing being the beautiful woman who is now perfect, but also dead).

Minister's Black Veil 

The story begins with the sexton standing in front of the meeting-house, ringing the bell. He is to stop ringing the bell when the Reverend Mr. Hooper comes into sight. However, the congregation is met with an unusual sight. Mr. Hooper is wearing a black semi-transparent veil that obscures all of his face but his mouth and chin from view. This creates a stir among the townspeople, who begin to speculate about his veil and its meanings.

As he takes the pulpit, Mr. Hooper's sermon is on secret sin and is "tinged, rather more darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr. Hooper's temperament" (Hawthorne 1313). This topic concerns the congregation who fear for their own secret sins as well as their minister's new appearance. After the sermon, a funeral is held for a young lady of the town who has died. Mr. Hooper stays for the funeral and continues to wear his now more appropriate veil. It is said that even the dead maiden would not be able to see his face, and if the veil were to blow away, he might be "fearful of her glance" (Hawthorne 1314). Mr. Hooper says a few prayers and the body is carried away. Two of the mourners say that they have had a fancy that "the minister and the maiden's spirit were walking hand in hand" (Hawthorne 1314). That night another occasion arises, this time a joyous one- a wedding. However, Mr. Hooper arrives in his veil again, bringing the atmosphere of the wedding down to gloom.

By the next day, even the local children are talking of the strange change that seems to have come over their minister. Yet, no one is able to ask Mr. Hooper directly about the veil, except for his fiancée Elizabeth. Elizabeth tries to be cheerful and have him take it off. He will not do so, even when they are alone together, nor will he tell her why he wears the veil. Eventually, she gives up and tells him goodbye, breaking off the engagement.

The one positive benefit of the veil is that Mr. Hooper becomes a more efficient clergyman, gaining many converts who feel that they too are behind the black veil with him. Dying sinners call out for him alone. Mr. Hooper lives his life thus, though he is promoted to Father, until his death bed. According to the text, "All through life the black veil had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart; and still it lay upon his face, as if to deepen the gloom of his darksome chamber, and shade him from the sunshine of eternity" (Hawthorne 1319).

The Reverend and Elizabeth come to his death bed. They ask him once again to remove the veil, but he refuses. As he dies, those around him tremble. He tells them in anger not to tremble, not merely for him but for themselves, for they all wear black veils. Father Hooper is buried in his black veil.