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Scarlet Letter Essay Questions And Answers

Hester in Disgrace
(Chapters 1-4)

1. Describe the narrator of the story. How does the narrator differ from a traditional first- or third-person narrator?

2. Discuss the beadle as the personification of Puritan thinking.

Hester in the Community
(Chapters 5–8)

1. Discuss the effect of the punishment upon Hester’s personality.

2. Explore the relationship of the Governor’s mansion to the “old world” and to the Puritans.

3. Examine some of the many symbols surrounding Hester Prynne, including the scarlet letter, her apparel, and her occupation.

Chillingworth and Dimmesdale
(Chapters 9–12)

1. Compare and contrast the effects of sin upon Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth.

2. Examine the strange relationship between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale.

3. Discuss Hawthorne’s use of coincidence and irony in these chapters.

Changes in Hester
(Chapters 13–15)

1. Discuss the Puritan moral law and the crime of independent thinking.

2. Compare Puritan parenting and Hester’s raising of Pearl.

3. How do Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth differ in their acceptance of what seems to be their fate?

Hester Attempts to Take Charge
(Chapters 16–19)

1. Compare and contrast the personalities of Hester and Dimmesdale in the forest. How does Hawthorne use the forest as a multiple symbol?

2. Discuss the use of sunlight and shade in these chapters.

Dimmesdale Reconsiders
(Chapters 20–22)

1. Discuss Puritan values as exemplified by their celebrations.

2. Explain Dimmesdale’s emotional state since leaving Hester.

3. Discuss Hawthorne’s use of irony and coincidence in these chapters.

4. Discuss whether Mistress Hibbins is real or allegorical.

(Chapters 23–24)

1. How does Pearl change after the scaffold scene?

2. Discuss Hester’s role as a counselor of troubled women.

3. Discuss Hester and Dimmesdale as pawns of fate.

4. How is the phrase “Be true” a central theme of the story?

5. How are Hester, Dimmesdale, Pearl, and Chillingworth redeemed by the end of the novel?

1. Discuss the function of physical setting in The Scarlet Letter. What is the relationship between the book’s events and the locations in which these events take place? Do things happen in the forest that could not happen in the town? What about time of day? Does night bring with it a set of rules that differs from those of the daytime?

2. Is The Scarlet Letter a protofeminist novel? Had Hester not been a woman, would she have received the same punishment? When Hester undertakes to protect other women from gender-based persecution, can we interpret her actions as pointing to a larger political statement in the text as a whole?

3. Describe Chillingworth’s “revenge.” Why does he choose to torture Dimmesdale and Hester when he could simply reveal that he is Hester’s husband? What does this imply about justice? About evil?

4. Discuss the function of the past in this novel. The narrator tells a two-hundred-year-old story that is taken from a hundred-year-old manuscript. Why does Hawthorne use a framing story for this novel rather than simply telling the story? Why are the events set in such distant history?

5. Children play a variety of roles in this novel. Pearl is both a blessing and a curse to Hester, and she seems at times to serve as Hester’s conscience. The town children, on the other hand, are cruel and brutally honest about their opinion of Hester and Pearl. Why are children presented as more perceptive and more honest than adults? How do children differ from adults in their potential for expressing these perceptions?

6. Native Americans make a few brief and mysterious appearances in this novel. What role do they play? In what ways might their presence contribute to the furthering of the book’s central themes?

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