Study Questions for The Scarlet Letter
Chapter I. 

1.  What relationships does this sort opening chapter suggest among these major themes:  
     social ideals and social reality; nature; and history? 

2.  What kind of relationship does the narrator establish with the reader?

Chapter II. 
1.  What is the significance of the title of this chapter?  What does it suggest about the  
     character of Hester's  punishment and  the society punishing her? 

2.  The narrator is careful to point out differences between his own time and those of  
     the Puritan setting.  Give as many examples of these differences as you can.  What  
     do these difference suggest about Puritan culture?  about Hawthorne's own nineteenth  

3.  What do we learn about Hester's life history in this chapter?

Chapter III. 

1.  What does the narrator think about the men sitting in judgment of Hester?  
     (Can you think of real life examples of a group of men judging a woman?)  
     Ironically, what kind of justice might Hester have expected from the  women  
     introduced at the beginning of Chapter II? 

2.  Describe the character of Dimmesdale.  What special powers does his voice have?  
     What clues in  this chapter point to his close bond with Hester? 

3.  What symbolic power does the scarlet letter develop as a result of Rev. Wilson's sermon?

Click here to go  to the top...
Chapter IV. 

1.  Why is this chapter suspenseful? 

2.  What does this chapter revel about the character and intentions of Roger Chillingworth? 

3.  What kind of marriage did Roger and Hester have, and why does Roger tell her  
     "We have wronged each other"?

Chapter V. 

1.  What reasons does  the narrator  offer  for  why Hester chooses to stay  in Boston? 

2.  Why does the  needlework of Hester--an infamous  sinner--become the fashion of the  
     highest members  of society?  What does Hester's needlework reveal about her inner self? 

3.  What role does  the scarlet letter play in society?  What  special insight into others  
     does it give Hester?   Is this insight  good or bad?  Why?

Chapter  VI. 

1.  What are some of the distinctive qualities and strange  behaviors of Pearl?  Are these  
     peculiar traits due to natural or supernatural causes ? 

2.  In  this chapter and  in Chapter V., comment on Hawthorne's method of narration.  
     How does he combine specific events with generalizations about Hester's experience  
     over several years?

Click  here to go to the top...
Chapter VII-VIII. 

1.  Discuss the meaning of Hester's statement to Pearl,  "Thou must gather thine own sunshine.  
     I have  none to give thee!"  Where else in the novel is sunshine an important image?  
     What relationship  does Pearl have with light? 

2.  In what ways does Pearl embody the scarlet letter?  In what fundamental way  is she  
     different from the scarlet letter, according to Hester? 

3.  What does Hester mean when she says "Pearl keeps me here in life"?  What evidence does  
     Hawthorne supply that  what Hester says is true? 

4.  Compare and contrast the significance of Pearl's various actions:    her reaching out  for  
     the reflection from the Governor's house; her impish response to Rev. Wilson; her caressing  
     the hand of Rev.  Dimmesdale, then running away when he kisses her forehead.  Is her  
     behavior natural, supernatural, or symbolic? 

5.  In what fundamental way has Rev.  Wilson's position toward Hester's sin (and fellow sinner)  
     changed since the opening scaffold scene? Click  here to go to the top...

Back home...