Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter Essay - Suggested Essay Topics

Suggested Essay Topics

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.

Resolution
(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?