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Study Questions for The Scarlet Letter


Chapters 1-4
Hawthorne opens The Scarlet Letter just outside the prison of what, in the early 1640's, was the village of Boston.

Look carefully at the details of the opening scene: "The sad-colored carments" of the spectators; the prison door itself, "heavily timbered with oad and studded with iron spides." These details create what kind of mood or picture of Boston?

In This Chapter only one note of color relieves the mood. What symbol is there to give some hope to the people of Boston?


"The Market Place"
What Hester has done is a private wrong, but in Puritan Boston this is public business. What crime has she committed?

Who are the most merciless people in Boston?

Describe Hester as she "issues out of the prison."

When she gets out of the prison, what is it about Hester or her begavior that upsets the people of Boston the most?


"The Recognition"
As Hester stands on the scaffold, thinking of her husband, he appears before her startled eyes at the edge of the crowd. Who is with this "misshapen scholar"?

Where has he been since he got to the New World?

According to the bottom of page 58, where is Hester and her husband originally from?

On page 63 a certain minister is called upon to try to talk Hester into telling who the father of the baby was. Who is he?

Now that you know who he is, read the back of the book and then explain the irony of his situation on page 63.


"The Interview"
This chapter brings together the estranged husband and wife in the privacy of the Boston prison. Chillingworth has come to the prison as the doctor helping the distraught Hester and her baby.

Why is Hester hesitant to give her baby the medicine Roger Chillingworth gives her?

Why doesn't Chillingworth want anyone to know he is Hester's husband? This answer is commonsense to most guys?

Is Hester right in shielding Dimmesdale from punishment? Explain.


Chapters 5-10
Why did Hester stay in Boston?

What was Hester's skill?

What was the one thing Hester was not allowed to make?

What did Hester do for the poor as penance for her sin?

What was Hester's daughter's name and what did the name mean to Hester?

Describe Hester's child (physically and mentally).

How was Hester's child treated by the other children in Boston?

Why did Hester go to the Governor's hall? (two reasons)

What did Hester's child want her mother to look at in the Governor's home?

At the end of Chapter7, what was the child crying for?

What men came to greet Hester at the beginning of Chapter 8?

What was the child's response when she was asked who made her?

How old is the child?

Why is Dimmesdale's health failing?

Who is "the leech" in chapter 9 and why is that an appropriate name for him?

Who is Dimmesdale's roommate and why did the church want him to move in with Arthur?

In the second paragraph of Chapter 10, Chillingworth's eyes are said to burn like something, what is it and why is this comparison a good one for Roger?

What was the reason, according to Roger, why a black flower was growing out of the grave in Chapter 10?

What do you think Roger saw on Arthur's chest at the end of chapter 10?


Chapters 14-17
While Hester is talking to her former husband, Roger Chillingworth, where is Pearl?

According to Hester's perceptions, how has Roger transformed himself?

Roger says he "could reveal a goodly secret." To what is he alluding to?

What has Hester determined to do at the end of her conversation with Roger?

What are Hester's feelings twards her husband? And why does she feel this way?

What has Pearl done to her dress in Chapter 15?

What was Pearl's answer to her mother's question why she wears the scarlet letter on her dress?

Why was Roger in the forest?

What story does Pearl want to hear while they are waiting for Arthur to walk by? Where did she first hear this story?

How is Arthur described in the second to last paragraph of Chapter 16?

There is much irony in Chapter 17. Define "irony."

What is it that neither Hester nor Arthur found in seven years?

What is the difference between "penance" and "penitdence"?

Why has Arthur's good works done him no good?

What is Arthur's reaction to Hester's news?

Arthur forgives Hester for what she has done to him. what has she done and how is Arthur's forgiveness different from Rogers?

There is quite a bit of irony in the section from the paragraph that begins with "He started with a thought that suddenly occurred to him" to the end of the chapter. what is Arthur asking from Hester in this section? Who is giving the advice to whom? How is this ironic?

What places does Hester tell Arthur he can go? What does Arthur feel like doing?

What are Hester and Arthur's feelings for each other?


Chapter 20
Dimmesdale returns home from the forest ot the settlement. As we watch him go, we are struck by the change in the man. The minister who went to the woods was weak to the point of death. The minister who returns is nothing short of frenzied. In fact, he seems a little crazy.

Dimmesdale's journey home is a progress fraught with peril, for at every step, he is tempted to do some outrageous thing or another.

What does he feel like teaching to the children he sees in town?

What is he tempted to tell the newly "won-over" virgin?

When Dimmesdale gets home, he lies to Chillingworth. What is this lie?

The minister also does something else, something that points in a different direction in his life. What does he do that evening to show that he is changed?


Chapter 21
In this chapter, Hawthorne shows us a lighter side of Puritanism. We have come to think of these first colonists as unreserveldy gloomy. Here we find them in a brighter, happier mood.

We come upon the colonists in a highly unusual act: celebrating. To mark the election of new magistrates, the colony has set aside its work. The citizens of Boston have gathered in the market-place to make merry as best they can. There is a parade planned, with music, and wrestling matches, too.

Hester and Pearl are part of the celebration. Though Hester stands on the sidelines, wearing ger usual black dress and her usual stony expression, the note of celebration echoes in ger heart. Beneath her poker face, Hester is exultant. She has come to the market-place, wearing the scarlet letter for the last time (or so she hopes). She silently invites the crowd to look their last on ger badge of shave. In a little while, the letter will lie at the bottom of the sea.

What does Hester learn from the shipmaster that changes her happy mood?


Chapter 22
We are still in the market-place. There is a lot going on to catch the reader's eye.

We see the magistrates on parade: firm, stalwart men who in times of peril have stood up to protect the colony like rocks against the the tide.

What does Hester notice about Dimmesdale's walk that is different?

Who else notices the change in Dimmesdale?

What does the ship's captain throw to Pearl and that she puts around her body?

What does he tell Pearl?


Chapter 23
Dimmesdale's Election Sermon is the trumph of his life. The crowd in the market-place is ecstatic. Never has a preacher deen so inspired. The spirit of prophecy has lifted Dimmesdale to new heights. Yet it is a future that their minister will not share.

What do the citizens of Boston sense about Dimmesdale?

Why doesn't Chillingworth want Arthur to get on the scaffold?

What does Pearl do to show that she finally accepts Dimmesdale as her father?


Chapter 24
What happens to each of the last three central characters?
  1. Hester
  3. Pearl
  5. Roger

When Hester dies, she is buried beside Dimmesdale, under a tombstone that serves for both graves. On the tombstone, the letter "A" is engraved like a heraldic device. So much life and suffering have gone into the symbol that the sign of adultery has become a sign of nobility. Hester a earned her coat of arms.



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