Scarlet Letter Questions

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What is the setting of The Scarlet Letter?

Boston, June 1642

Nathaniel Hawthorne describes a prison, a cemetery, ugly weeds, and a wild rosebush. Explain the symbolism of each of these items.

The prison represents condemned and disgraced people. The ugly weeds represent decay and repulsiveness. The wild rosebush represents the idea that beauty and goodness can be found in even the most dreary places.

What is the mood of the Scarlet Letter?

The mood reflects the guiltiness and bleak emotions elicited by the Puritans.

For what sin is Hester Prynne condemned?

Hester is guilty of adultery.

What is the public view of Hester's sin as expressed by the women outside the prison? What do their comments suggest about this society?

The women detest Hester for her sin and think that her punishment should be more severe than it is. Their beliefs reflect the strict adherence to religious values and morals in their society.

What is Hester's punishment?

Hester has to stand on the scaffold for three hours to be mocked, and is required to wear an embroidered scarlet letter "A" on her chest for the rest of her life.

What is Hester's attitude towards her sin and punishment?

Hester is prideful in the sense that she intricately fashioned the A onto her clothes, but her shame is revealed as she clutches her baby to her chest when being teased.

One way Hester endures her punishment is by dreaming of her past. What does the flashback reveal about Hester's past?

Hester had a childhood that was happy yet she was poor. She naively married and came to the new world.

Who appears in the crowd as Hester stands on the scaffold? What is Hester's reaction?

Chillingworth, Hester's husband, appears. She is frightened and surprised when she recognizes him.

Where has Chillingworth been? What motion does he make to Hester?

Chillingworth has been living with the Indians in the wild. He places his fingers against his lip indicating to keep his identity and presence a secret.

Who is Dimmesdale? What appeal does he use to convince Hester to reveal the baby's father?

Dimmesdale is the young minister. He tells Hester she would be doing a justice by revealing the father's identity because he would no longer live with hypocrisy and guilt.

Why does Hester fear Chillingworth?

Hester is afraid Chillingworth will poison her baby in spite of her sin against him.

Explain Chillingworth's attitude towards Hester.

Chillingworth assures Hester he will not harm her and takes partial blame by claiming he should not have married such a young woman expecting her to be faithful.

What does Chillingworth intend to do and why?

Chillingworth intends to find out who the father is because he wishes to seek revenge on this man.

What does Chillingworth make Hester promise? Why does she agree?

Chillingworth makes Hester promise not to reveal his identity as her husband. She agrees because he promises in return not to harm the father.

Explain Hester's comment to Chillingworth, "Thy acts are like mercy...But thy words interpret thee as a terror!'' What details does reinforce the image of Chillingworth as someone to be feared?

Hester is implying that although Chillingworth's words are merciful, his tone and attitude are putting her on edge and eluding to terror.

What is implied in Chillingworth's last line, "No, not thine"?

He is implying that he is after her lover's soul, not Hester's.

In this chapter, the narrator summarizes months of Hester's life. Describe Hester's home, including any symbolism of its location. How does she earn a living?

Hester lives in a cottage isolated from the rest of the community on the edge of town to avoid social scrutiny. She works as a seamstress for a living.

Give two reasons why Hester decides to remain in instead of moving to a less-restrictive colony.

Hester wants to stay close to her secret lover. She also believes staying in Boston and dealing with her punishment will cleanse her soul of her sin.

How do the townspeople treat Hester, and how does she react?

The townspeople look down on her and publicly disrespect her. When she is mocked, she feels insulted but never replies or retaliates.

How does Hester change?

She becomes more humble and charitable, realizing every is guilty of having sin in their hearts.

Describe the difference between Hester's clothes and her daughter's.

Hester's clothes are always dreary and drab in contrast to her scarlet letter. Pearl's clothes are lavishly and intricately fashioned.

Why do people allow Hester to sew for them?

Hester is a very talented seamstress and although people degrade her morals, they are willing to pay for her work. Also, people are curious about her for being a social outcast.

Describe Pearl.

Pearl is a beautiful, lively young girl.

How is Pearl's weird and antisocial behavior explained?

Pearl is very intelligent and reflects many qualities and interests Hester had when younger. She can sense her mother's pain and sadness and therefore becomes hostile and reject society.

Explain the ambiguity concerning Pearl's background.

Townspeople believe Pearl is the incarnation of the Devil himself, while Hester believes Pearl is the physical embodiment of her sin.

Why does Hester ask Pearl, "Art thou my child?"

Hester wonders whether Pearl is truly human.

Hester believes that, while society punishes her for her sinning, God has a different reaction. How does Hester explain Pearl's existence?

God gave Hester a child as sort of a salvation and a reason to live.

Why does Hester go to the governor's house?

She delivers a pair of gloves, and asks about the rumors that Pearl will be taken away from her.

How is Pearl dressed, and what is her dress compared to?

Pearl is wearing a scarlet dress with gold embroidery. She is described as the scarlet letter with life.

Explain the incident with the breastplate.

The breastplate magnifies and distorts the "A" on Hester's dress, making it appear as though she is hiding behind the scarlet letter.

Consider the descriptions of the governor's house. What is Hawthorne suggesting about the governor?

The governor likes luxurious and expensive comforts, all of English style.

How do the magistrates react to Pearl and why?

The magistrates are shocked because they believe Hester is raising Pearl in defiance of proper manners.

How does Hester behave towards the magistrates and why?

In an effort to keep Pearl, Hester threatens to kill herself if they take her away from her.

How are the magistrates convinced to let Hester keep Pearl?

Hester appeals to Dimmesdale, who say Pearl is both a blessing and a curse. Her responsibility with Pearl prevents her from becoming an evil person.

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