Sample Essay Outlines

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The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help get you started.

Topic #1

Discuss Hawthorne’s blend of realism, symbolism, and allegory in The Scarlet Letter.

I. Thesis Statement: The Scarlet Letter is a blend of realism, symbolism, and allegory.

II. Realism in The Scarlet Letter
A. Historical setting
B. Psychological exploration of characters
C. Realistic dialogue

III. Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
A. The letter and its obvious manifestations
B. Pearl as a human manifestation of the letter
C. The settings as symbols
1. The settlement
2. The forest
3. The scaffold
4. The market-place

IV. Allegory in The Scarlet Letter
A. Definition
B. Character types
1. The beadle
2. Hester
3. Dimmesdale
4. Chillingworth
5. Pearl

Topic #2

How are Puritans represented in The Scarlet Letter?

I. Thesis Statement: Hawthorne’s opinion of the Puritans may be understood by examining their actions within the novel and the narrator’s comment on them.

II. Historical background on the Puritans

III. Hawthorne’s ancestors as described in “The Custom-House” essay

IV. The Puritan’s actions in The Scarlet Letter
A. The ministers
B. The common people
1. Attitudes toward work and relaxation
2. Attitudes toward their religious beliefs
3. Attitudes toward Hester and Pearl

V. The narrator’s comments about Puritans
A. Negative comments
B. Positive comments

Topic #3

Discuss Hester Prynne’s conflicts with herself, with others, and with Nature.

I. Thesis Statement: Hester Prynne has several conflicts, and as these are resolved, her character is revealed.

II. Types of conflict possible
A. Conflict with self
B. Conflict with another
C. Conflict with a group
D. Conflict with Nature
E. Conflict with the supernatural

III. Hester in conflict with herself
A. Accepts her actions as wrong
B. Retains a sense of pride

IV. Hester in conflict with another
A. Settles initial conflict with Chillingworth
B. Challenges Chillingworth about her promise
C. Attempts to outmaneuver Chillingworth

V. Hester in conflict with a group
A. Accepts the society’s punishment with patience
B. Fights the power structure and Dimmesdale to keep Pearl
C. Her thoughts defy conventional teaching
D. Resumes her punishment years later of her own choosing

VI. Hester in conflict with nature
A. Resists the “Black Man of the Forest”
B. Accepts the natural forest as promising freedom

VII. Hester in conflict with the supernatural
A. Resists the “Black Man of the Forest”
B. Allows God to judge her sin without any pleading for mercy

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Critical Evaluation