Chapters 1-4 Questions and Answers

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Study Questions
1. What is the setting of the story?

2. What legend accounts for the existence of the rose bush by the prison door?

3. What is the mood of the crowd, and why is their attention focused on the door?

4. What reasons are given as to why Hester Prynne was not executed for her crime? What would the Puritan women have done to her if given the power?

5. What are Hester’s specific actions as she walks from the prison to the scaffold?

6. What memories does Hester review during her three-hour ordeal?

7. Tell where each of the following are located while Hester is on the scaffold: her daughter Pearl, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, and her former husband, Roger Chillingworth.

8. What specifically is Dimmesdale’s plea to Hester?

9. During their interview, what is Chillingworth’s attitude toward Hester and her act of infidelity?

10. What promise does Chillingworth exact from Hester?


1. The Scarlet Letter is set in the Puritan colony of Salem, Massachusetts during the 1640s. Specifically, the action begins in the market-place of Salem on a morning in June 1642.

2. The rose bush was said to have grown out of the footsteps of Anne Hutchinson. She was a heretic who taught that personal faith was superior to the force of moral law. The Puritans imprisoned her, then drove her from the colony.

3. Most of the crowd are serious and somber, as if they were about to witness an execution. They are waiting to witness the public humiliation of an adulterer among them.

4. The men governing the colony feel that Hester Prynne is young and fair and therefore more likely than most to give in to temptation. Moreover, her husband may very well be dead. The majority of women want Hester to be branded on her forehead or even put to death.

5. Hester shrugs off the beadle’s hand on her shoulder, pauses a moment outside the door of the prison, and looks around at the townspeople. She resists the urge to cover the scarlet letter with the baby she is carrying, and walks serenely and gracefully to the scaffold.

6. During the three hours on the scaffold Hester remembers a decaying ancestral home, the parents who loved her, her marriage to a pale, thin, misshapen scholar, and life in the capitals of Europe with the old scholar.

7. Pearl is in Hester’s arms, Dimmesdale is above Hester on a balcony of the meeting-house, and Chillingworth is on the edge of the crowd gathered in the market-place.

8. Dimmesdale says that Hester must realize the pressure he is under. If she feels it is the right thing to do, she should reveal the name of the father. Doing so would be for his own good, even if he were to come down from a high place, since he probably does not have the courage to do so himself. He is greatly relieved when Hester refuses to answer.

9. Chillingworth feels the scale is balanced between them; she should not have committed adultery, while he should not have married so young and vibrant a girl and left her alone. He seeks no revenge on Hester.

10. Hester promises to keep her husband’s identity a secret.

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Chapters 5-8 Questions and Answers