In the WEM‘s section titled “How to Read A Novel,” readers are asked to pay attention to the table of contents of each book. Susan Wise Bauer explains that it makes a difference whether a novel has chapter titles or not.
Don Quixote has many short chapters; the chapter titles (“The prophesying ape,” “The puppet show,” “The braying adventure,” “Concerning a squire’s wages”) tell you that the story will unfold as a series of separate, brief events. The chapter titles of The Scarlet Letter (“Hester and the Physician,” “Hester and Pearl,” “The Minister in a Maze”) introduce you to the story’s main characters. In both cases the chapter titles tell you how to approach the book. Don Quixote is an episodic adventure; The Scarlet Letter is an examination of character.
My copy of The Scarlet Letter does not have a table of contents, but the chapters do have titles. Chapter three is called “Recognition.” Hester stands on the scaffold, holding infant Pearl. She notices a stranger. Hawthorne paints a description of the character without revealing his name. Hester does not need the narrator to name this man she immediately (as the chapter aptly says) recognizes. It is such as shock to her that she “presses her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of pain.”
The other instance of recognition in this chapter comes toward the end when the man shouts out from the crowd, “Speak; and give you child a father!” Here, Hawthorne tells us Hester recognized the man’s voice.
Tell me, first-time-readers, who did you suspect this man was when you reached chapter three?