The Scarlet Letter eText - Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

This eText contains embedded glossary terms and other notes added by our community of educators. Simply click or tap on the yellow highlighted words within the text to see the annotations.
Turn Off

Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights

  1. To better appreciate The Scarlet Letter, we need to examine the symbols that Hawthorne uses:
  2. As you read, be aware of the following concepts:

    • The consequences of sin:

      Hester, who openly admits her sin, withstands and then triumphs over her punishment, and she lives a full life. However, Dimmesdale, who conceals his sin, faces a different destiny. Pay close attention to how Dimmesdale's unconfessed sin leads to his demise. In what ways do other characters suffer for their sins?

    • The role of women:

      Hester is forced to support Pearl on her own. During the seventeenth century, a woman's role was strictly defined, and single motherhood, especially resulting from adultery, was treated harshly. Eventually, Hester is able to break free from the gender restrictions of her time. What personal qualities that Hester has might help her achieve independence?

    • The child as a reflection of the parent:

      Pearl is mischievous and uncontrollable, a symbol of purity and worth, and also a reminder of Hester's sin. She represents the tie Hester has with the past that cannot be broken or avoided. Notice the complexity that Hawthorne gives her.

    • Marriage as an institution:

      Hester's marriage to Chillingworth is destroyed because of her infidelity, but social restrictions prohibit her from marrying Dimmesdale. What do these situations imply about the Puritan concept of marriage?

    • The dualistic nature of humankind:

      Hester, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale exhibit both virtuous and immoral actions throughout The Scarlet Letter. Therefore, none of the three should be labeled as particularly good or bad. Note how the beliefs, choices, and behaviors make the characters seem realistic.

    • Shame and fear as a single emotion:

      After seven years of secrecy, Dimmesdale finally confesses his sin immediately before he dies. Understand that Dimmesdale conceals his sin because he is ashamed for his deed, and he fears being punished and exiled.

  3. Some critics contend that Hester Prynne, the protagonist, is not simply a classical literary figure, but also an early American heroine:

    • Hester is a strong woman; when she is given the opportunity to leave the community and never return, she embraces her punishment.

    • Despite the humiliation and criticism from society, Hester wears her scarlet letter A while continuing to raise her child and make a living. Neither her sin nor her punishment inhibits her from leading a successful life.

    • Hester never loses her independence. The society connects Hester with the crime she committed and makes an example of her. In spite of this connection, Hester manages to find liberation in the red letter. Her independence allows her to transform the meaning of the letter, from that of an adulteress into a sign of honor and respect.

  4. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne allows readers to explore human ambiguities by hinting at many different possible explanations for events, behavior, personalities, and for society's rules. This technique, which mirrors the complexity of human thought and behavior, allows readeRs To Draw Their Own Conclusions About The Book.

  5. Terms Marked In The Text With (†) Can Be Looked Up In The Glossary For Additional Information.

  6. Difficult Or Unusual Vocabulary Words Are Listed Alphabetically At The Back Of The Book.