Study Guide

 
 
BEFORE YOU READ Chapters 1-8
  • Focus Activity
    • How does our society punish people who break the law?
      • jail, probation, fines
    • Discuss shame and what it role it plays in the punishment of criminals.  Determine whether modern-day punishments include bringing shame upon those who break the law.
      • Shame does not play as important of a role in punishment today as it did in "Scarlet Letter times".  Many times criminals are looked on as "scum of the earth" type people, but we do not look on them with shame, many times we look on them with pity instead because of their "hard life".  We excuse the sin and blame it on their past.  
ACTIVE READING Chapters 1-8
  • As you read, nore the main qualities of each character.  Write adjectives that describe each character, based on Hawthorne's characterization.
    • Hester Prynne
      • courageous
      • firm
      • sinful
      • shamed
      • lonely
    • Roger Chillingworth
      • intelligent
      • vengeful
      • perceptive
      • curious
      • inconsiderate
    • Arthur Dimmesdale
      • embarrassed
      • hiding
      • hypocritical
      • nervous
      • anxious
    • Pearl
      • rebellious
      • beautiful
      • demonic
      • disrespectful
      • spoiled
RESPONDING Chapters 1-8
  • How do you feel about what happens to Hester Prynne.
    • She almost deserves have Pearl taken away from her, because she is too scared of Pearl to raise her correctly.  Yet I am sympathetic towards Hester because Pearl is all she has.  She has shamed her husband and has created an illegitamate, demon of a child.  There is a debate between my emotions whether to feel sorry for Hester or to think "She deserves it!" 
  • What is Hester Prynne's punishment.  What do the Puritan magistrates hope to accomplish with this punishment?
    • She must stand on a platform in front of all the townspeople and hold her baby daughter.  She has a scarlet letter "A" stitched on her dress, so everyone knows the sin that she has committed.  The Puritan leaders hope to inject enough guilt into Hester to make her repentant for the wrong she has done.  They also hope to make her an example in front of the townspeople, that they should not follow in her footsteps.
  • Whom does Hester recognize in the crowd as she stands on the scaffold?  Why does this discovery both confuse and frighten her?
    • She sees "Roger Chillingworth", her husband.  She came over to New England before her husband, who promised to meet her there later.  She is confused when she sees him there because she doesn't know what happened to him and how he got there.  She is also frightened because, just like everyone else watching, he could clearly see what crime she has committed.  She was probably embarrassed and also afraid that her husband would be terribly angry.
  • How does Hester live after she is released from prison?  What keeps her from leaving Boston?
    • She lives in a small cabin in the woods with Pearl.  She decides to stay in Boston because she has a place to live and steady income from her sewing business.
  • What is remarkable about the scarlet letter Hester makes?  What, do you think, is Hawthorne suggesting by having Hester make such a letter?
    • It seems like it is alive at times.  Hester feels like it is burning into her chest at times.  Perhaps Hawthorne is suggesting that when we publically sin, we have a mark forever emblazoned on ourselves.  It may be invisible, but there's always something there to remind us and others about our sin.
  • How do religious beliefs and colonial laws intermingle in this story?  To what extent do religion and law mix in modern American society?  Explain your answer.
    • In the Puritan colony, the leaders were attempting to create a theocratic government - one ruled by God.  They used the Levitical laws in the Bible and governed everything using Scripture.  Religion and government were practically one and the same.  Today, religion and law very rarely mix at all.  America has a strict seperation of church and state policy.  While this was originally a policy to prevent the government from creating a national religion, it has become an excuse to take God and the Bible out of all society in general.  Today, leaders govern according to what they think is right, instead of what the Bible says is right.
  • Summarize the events so far -
    • Hester is publically punished in front of the townspeople.  She sees her husband in the crowd, who later comes to visit her in prison. Hester refuses to reveal the name of the Pearl's father. 
    • Hester and Pearl live a decently normal life in their cabin in the woods.  They are mocked and stared at when they go into town, which makes Pearl very angry.  Hester spoils Pearl because she is afraid of her strange ways.
    • The Puritan leaders want to take Pearl away from Hester because they beleive that Hester has not been a good mother.  Dimmesdale convinces them otherwise.
 
 
 
BEFORE YOU READ Chapters 9-15
  • Focus Activity
    • What effects does guilt have on a person's life?
      • It might make a person feel depressed or lonely.  In some cases, a person may feel like he is worthless and consider suicide.
    • Everyone feels guilty about something at some time in his or her life.  Describe a time when you felt guilty.  How did guilt change your behavior?  What, if anything, did you do to rid youself of the guilt?
      • Recently, I felt guilty about dishonoring some of my parents' rules.  I was nervous my parents would be upset with me, because it's very important to me that they're happy with me.  I wrote a note to my parents, asking their forgiveness and I also prayed and asked God to forgive me.  My parents and I had a talk about everything, and the rest of the day I felt so free! I felt like I was walking on air.
ACTIVE READING Chapters 9-15
  • Chapters 9 through 15 move the plot forward by examining each of the main characters in turn. Readers become more closely acquainted with each character by means of the narrator’s insight into his or her thoughts and actions. After you read each chapter, write a one- or two-sentence summary, focusing on what the narrator reveals about the characters. Use as many boxes as you need.
  • Chapter 9
    • Roger Chillingworth becomes the friend and personal physician of Arthur Dimmesdale, whose health continues to decline. Dimmesdale suspects no evil from Chillingworth, whose aspect turns from scholarly to scheming.
  • Chapter 10
    • Dimmesdale begins to suspect ulterior motives in Chillingworth. Chillingworth suspects Dimmesdale is the father of Hester's baby, and the two get into an argument when Chillingworth presses Dimmesdale to share his secret.
  • Chapter 11
    • Dimmesdale wrestles with the guilt gnawing at his soul, although he continues to preach and his reputation is blameless.
  • Chapter 12
    • Late one night, Dimmesdale goes to the scaffold where Hester experienced public reproach.  He now stands to personally identify himself with Hester.  Hester and Pearl, after visiting the Govorner on his deathbed, approach Dimmesdale, and he invites them to come stand with him.  As the 3 symbolically stand together, a great red letter "A" appears in the sky as Chillingworth watches the scene.
  • Chapter 13
    • Hester wrestles with the guilt gnawing at her soul. Her reputation as an adulterss is slowly declining.  Hester resolves to speak to her former husband about Dimmesdale.
  • Chapter 14
    • Hester and Roger meet by the seashore and discuss Dimmesdale.  Hester is angry at Roger for torturing him, and Roger is angry at Hester for betraying him, saying he wants to get revenge on Dimmesdale.
  • Chapter 15
    • Pearl asks what the scarlet letter means and why Dimmesdale always keeps his hand over his heart.
 
RESPONDING Chapters 9-15
  • What images from Chapter 9-15 are most vivid to you?  Describe them and explain why they impressed you.
    • The moment when Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl stand on the scaffold together and the letter A appears in the sky is a powerful symbol that clearly shows the darkness of Hester and Dimmesdale's sin and the product of their sin, Pearl.
  • How does Roger Chillingworth's appearance change?  How does Hester interpret the change she sees in Chillingworth.
    • He used to be a quiet, studious, intellectual man, but now he is revengful and full of hatred.  Hester comes to the conclusion that she hates him and that he has betrayed her in the same ways she has betrayed him.
  • How does Dimmesdale feel about his role as the much-respected minister in he community?  Why doesn't he thrive amidst these people who so admire him.
    • He feels that he can preach more powerfully, because he knows the depths of guilt in his own soul.  He doesn't thrive because he has hidden sin, a secret guilt that keeps him from living and abundant, happy life.
  • What causes Hester to decide to speak to Chillingworth after so many years.  What does she hope to accomplish?
    • She feels a sense of responsibility to protect Dimmesdale from Chillingworth's injected torture.  She hopes to get Chillingworth to leave Dimmesdale alone, because he's really hurting him instead of helping him.
  • In what ways does Hawthorne move the story forward in Chapters 9 through 15?  How effective is his technique?
    • He takes a chapter to develop each of his characters more fully (chapter 9 is about Chillingworth, chapter 11 is about Dimmesdale, and Chapter 13 is about Hester).  The other chapters deal with a conversation between 2 of the characters (chapter 10 is a conversation between Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, chapter 14 is between Hester and Chillingworth, and 15 is between Hester and Pearl).  The technique is very effective: it moves systematically and logically, making it easy to follow.
  • Hester has learned to live, more or less, with the scarlet letter.  Dimmesdale, it seems, is hardly able to cope.  Do you agree that Dimmesdale would have been better off if Hester had named him as Pearl's father seven years earlier.  Explain your answer.
    • I think it would be a different sort of guilt.  Instead of private torture, it would be public humilation, like Hester.  He would not be able to preach anymore, had his sin been revealed, and that does bring some consolation to him.  I think Dimmesdale would be overall happier if he married Hester and they started a new life somewhere else. He would still carry the guilt of his sin, but he would be able to bear it more if he confessed publicly and then moved away, out of public scrutiny.
 
 
BEFORE YOU READ Chapters 16-24
  • Focus Activity
    • In what ways does our society demand that we conform to certain conventions?
      • Society demands that we obey the law, if we don't, then we'll be put in jail.
    • What expectations does our society have about how we behave in public?  treat other people?  make a living?  Indicate what happens to people who do not meet society's expectations.
      • We have to behave courteously and politely. And treat other people respectfully. If we don't, we might be escorted out of the building or even put in jail if we are disrespectful to a person of authority.
      • We have to hold down a conventional job, or else we can't pay for anything, which means we'll amass large debts.
 
 
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