Hester arranges an encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest because she is aware that Chillingworth has probably guessed that she plans to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale. The former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family. They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. Pearl, playing nearby, does not recognize her mother without the letter. The day before the ship is to sail, the townspeople gather for a holiday and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon, sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold. He impulsively mounts the scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing a scarlet letter seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead, as Pearl kisses him.
The Scarlet Letter also became intensely popular upon publication because it had the good fortune of becoming one of America's first mass-published books. Before The Scarlet Letter, books in America usually were handmade, sold one by one in small numbers. But Hawthorne's novel benefited from a machine press, and its first run of 2,500 copies sold out immediately. As a result, then, The Scarlet Letter benefited not only from its implicit controversial subject matter but also from an unusually large available readership. Readers who agreed or disagreed with the book's choices, however subtly, could spread the word. The novel became the equivalent of a seminal political tract--and the subject of endless discussion and debate, no doubt influencing social change. The novel also benefited because of Hawthorne’s support and respect among New England's literary establishment (he would soon become good friends with Herman Melville). Thus, the novel became popular not only with the masses. It was heralded as “appropriate” reading despite its attention to adulterous love.
Hawthorne’s craftsmanship is splendidly demonstrated in The Scarlet Letter . The structure is carefully unified, with three crucial scenes—at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the action—taking place on the scaffold. The scarlet A itself is repeatedly entwined into the narrative as a symbol of sin and shame, as a reminder of Hester’s ability with the needle and her capability with people, and in Dimmesdale’s case, as evidence of the searing effects of secret guilt. Hawthorne often anticipates later developments with hints or forewarnings: There is, for example, the suggestion that Pearl lacks complete humanity, perhaps because she has never known great sorrow, but at the end of the story when Dimmesdale dies, Hawthorne writes, “as [Pearl’s] tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it.”