What Is the Foreshadowing in "The Scarlet Letter"?

Pearl is compared to the rosebush and the
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In "The Scarlet Letter," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne arrives ahead of her husband to start their new life in America. She becomes pregnant before her husband arrives, and after the baby is born, she is branded with a scarlet letter "A" for "adulterer." The novel deals with the long-term consequences of her affair and the stigma of wearing the scarlet letter. Throughout the novel, foreshadowing hints at the bittersweet resolution for the characters.

1 Rose Bush

In the opening scene of the novel, Hester steps out of the prison to see a rosebush standing in full bloom that was reputed to have grown from the footsteps of Anne Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was also punished because she deviated from Puritan teachings, but she later made a home in a new place. The rosebush is the only beautiful thing in the bleak setting. It serves to foreshadow the idea that something good and beautiful will emerge from Hester's bleak situation, just as it did for Anne. Hester will birth Pearl, her own beautiful rose, and eventually, she will have a new home.

2 Chillingworth's Promise

When Roger Chillingworth comes to see Hester in prison, the townspeople do not know that he is her husband. Chillingworth promises that he will find out who the father of Hester's child is and reveal him, but he makes Hester promise to keep his identity as her husband secret. Hester agrees, but she wonders whether her soul will be ruined as a result. He tells her "Not thy soul ... No, not thine!" The exchange foreshadows what will become of Dimmesdale, who is Pearl's father. Chillingworth psychologically tortures Dimmesdale, beginning the slow descent that ultimately leads to Dimmesdale's admission of guilt, his death and the assumption of the townspeople that Dimmesdale's soul is ruined.

3 On the Scaffold

In Chapter 12, Dimmesdale becomes so overcome with guilt that he stands at the scaffold and imagines himself with a scarlet letter, foreshadowing his eventual demise. Hester and Pearl are walking by on their way from Governor Winthrop's deathbed. They stand together on the scaffold, but it is night, and the townspeople aren't present, as they are settled in their homes, away from the scaffold. Pearl asks Dimmesdale if he will stand with them on the scaffold in the light of day. By the end of the novel, Dimmesdale does so, standing with both Hester and Pearl on the scaffold in front of the town, revealing that he is Pearl's father and dying after having confessed his sin.

4 Shadow of the Letter

Hester and Dimmesdale enjoy a joyous afternoon together with Pearl in the woods in chapters 18 and 19. In a moment of freedom, Hester lets down her hair and removes the scarlet letter from her chest, but Pearl throws a fit. She becomes very upset and will not come to Hester unless Hester is wearing the scarlet "A." Hester has to reattach the letter and re-pin her hair before Pearl will come to her. The moment foreshadows the concept that no matter what choice they make, Hester and Dimmesdale will always live under the shadow of their sin, and will not be freed from the judgment of society.

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.