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The Scarlet Letter Reading Assignments

Pre-reading assignment

Section One
Chapters 1-8

See packet for questions and activity

*Extra Credit Option*
Read, summarize, and comment on The Custom House.
Section Two
Chapters 9-16

See packet for questions and activity

Section Three –
Chapters 17-24

See packet for questions and activity

Take Home Final –

The Scarlet Letter

Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne was born July 4th, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. He began to add the w to his last name when he published his books. He is a direct descendant of the original Puritans and Judge Hathorne – original judge at the witch trials. It is believed that the family has a curse because of all the unjustified killings. He wrote Scarlet Letter in 1850 and it was an immediate success. He was the first American writer to gain international fame. His other most famous book, The House of Seven Gables, is about a curse that destroys a family. He died on May 19, 1864.

Scarlet Letter – Written in 1850
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Mid-17th Century Boston Massachusetts
Narrator: Omniscient subjective – gives his opinion on characters
Themes: Sin, Human Condition, Evil, Society, Identity
Motifs: Civilization vs. Wilderness, Night vs. Day
Symbols, Scarlet Letter, Scaffold, Pearl, Rosebush

Hester Prynne - She is married to Chillingworth, but she never loved him. He sends her from England to the new colonies to set up a home and wait for him. She has an affair with the local reverend and becomes pregnant. She will not reveal the father and is shunned from society. She is forced to wear the letter A on her chest as a reminder of her sin.

Roger Chillingworth - He is a very cold man. He is referred to as a leech. Walks hunched over and deformed. He represents true evil. When he finally comes to town he pretends not to know Hester. When he realizes the Reverend is the father, he begins to torture him.

Arthur Dimmesdale - The scholar and Reverend who had the affair with Hester. Does not share in her public guilt, instead he suffers alone and at the hands of Chillingworth.

Pearl - The love child of Hester and Dimmesdale. She is another symbol of the sin. She is fixated on her mother’s scarlet letter. She is a devilish, troublesome child.

Utopia - An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.
Physiognomy - The art of judging human character from facial features.
Tribunal - A committee or board appointed to adjudicate in a particular matter.
Venerable - Commanding respect by virtue of age, dignity, character, or position.
Ignominy - Great personal dishonor or humiliation.
Mien - An appearance or aspect.
Preternatural - Out of or being beyond the normal course of nature; differing from the natural
Iniquity - A grossly immoral act; a sin
Sage - One venerated for experience, judgment, and wisdom.
Exhort - To urge by strong, often stirring argument, admonition, advice, or appeal.
Lurid - Causing shock or horror; gruesome.
Paramour - A lover, especially one in an adulterous relationship.
Infamy -Evil fame or reputation.
Progenitor - A direct ancestor.
Plebeian - A vulgar or coarse person.
Alchemy - A seemingly magical power or process of transmuting.
Martyr - One who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy.
Talisman - Something that apparently has magic power.
Aver - To justify or prove.
Mutable - Capable of or subject to change or alteration.
Caprice - An impulsive change of mind.
Enmity - Deep-seated, often mutual hatred.
Dearth - A scarce supply.
Imp - A mischievous child.
Panoply - A splendid or striking array.
Latent - Present or potential but not evident or active: latent talent.
Antipathy - A strong feeling of aversion or repugnance.
Presentiment - A sense that something is about to occur; a premonition.
Dissemble - To disguise or conceal behind a false appearance.
Somnambulism – sleepwalking.
Zenith - The point on the celestial sphere that is directly above the observer.
Erudite - Characterized by erudition; learned.
Bane - Fatal injury or ruin.
Sportive - Playful; frolicsome.
Recompense - To award compensation to: recompensed the victims of the accident.
Necromancy - The practice of communicating with the spirits of the dead in order to predict the future.
Apotheosis - Exaltation to divine rank or stature; deification.
Stigma - A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach.

Pre-Reading Activity - answer on a separate sheet of paper.
Theme: Alienation
Discuss a time when you have felt lonely or left out.

Theme: Appearance vs. Reality
Discuss a time when someone or something you thought you knew was not really what it seemed to be.

Theme: Breaking Society’s Rules
Discuss historical events in which groups of people have broken society’s rules. What was the outcome?

When are rules good for society?

When can they be bad for society?

Discuss times when women take more blame than men.

Discuss times when men take more blame than women.

Questions Part One - answer on a separate sheet of paper.
Chapter One: The Prison Door
Describe the surrounding of the building.

What does the rosebush represent?

Chapter Two: The Market Place
Who among the crowd seemed to take the most interest in what was about to happen?

What was thought to be a better way to punish than what the magistrate had determined?

What went through Hester’s mind as she stood before the people?

Chapter Three: The Recognition
Who attracted Hester’s attention on the outskirts of the crowd?

What kind of signal did he give her and what did it mean?

What prophecy did the stranger make as to the father of the baby?

Describe Master Dimmesdale.

Chapter Four: The Interview
Why has the stranger been brought to see Hester in jail?

What is his name and why is he being lodged in the prison?

Does she reveal to him the name of the child’s father?

What command did he give Hester? Why?

Chapter Five: Hester and her Needle
When several possibilities arose for going somewhere else to live, why does she choose to remain in Boston?

Describe the place where Hester established herself and the baby.

How does she support herself and the baby?

How was she looked upon?

What did Hester do with any extra money she had?

What story did the vulgar make up about the symbolic letter?

Chapter Six: Pearl
Why did Hester name her child Pearl?

Describe Pearl.

How did Pearl react to the other children? Why did she act that way?

How did she spend her playtime?
Chapter Seven: The Governor’s Hall
Why did Hester go to Governor Bellingham’s mansion?

What did Pearl see in the governor’s garden that interested her?

Chapter Eight: The Elf-child and the Minister
How does Pearl respond to Mr. Wilson’s question as to who made her?

What was the governor about to do because of her answer?

Who interceded for her? What was his plea?

Activities for Part One – Choose one activity to complete

How do religious beliefs and colonial laws intermingle in this story? To what extent do religion and law mix in OUR society? Explain your answer in well thought out paragraphs.

Illustrate what you imagine the scarlet letter to look like.

Research crime and punishment during the Puritan times and explain how the punishments fit the crimes. Do you think the punishments were appropriate? Were they too strict or is our legal system too lenient? Explain your answers in well thought out paragraphs.

Questions Part Two - answer on a separate sheet of paper.
Chapter Nine: The Leech
What is a leech? How does this describe Roger Chillingworth?

How was Dimmesdale enduring the ordeal of his troubled conscience?

What became noticeable in the physician’s face after he begun to live with Dimmesdale?

Chapter Ten: The Leech and his Patient
What does Dimmesdale say to keep some from making a confession?

When Pearl saw Chillingworth, what did she say?

What did Chillingworth do one afternoon while the minister was sounding asleep?

What was his reaction to what he saw?

Chapter Eleven: The Interior of a Heart
How does the minister now regard the physician?

What was Dimmesdale’s relation now with his congregation and office?

How does Dimmesdale look upon himself?

Chapter Twelve: The Minister’s Vigil
What did Dimmesdale do in the middle of the night?

What did he do to wake the townspeople? What did they think the noise was?
What did Pearl ask him?

What appeared in the heavens and what shape did his guilty imagination give it?

What did the sexton give to Dimmesdale the next morning? Where was it found and whom did the sexton say put it there?

How did the sexton interpret the letter A?

Chapter Thirteen: Another View of Hester
How much time has passed since the beginning of the book?
How had the people come to look upon the letter A?

What did Hester plan to do about the effect Chillingworth was having on Dimmesdale?

Chapter Fourteen: Hester and the Physician
What changes can Hester see in Chillingworth’s face?

What does Hester threaten Chillingworth with? How does he respond?

Chapter Fifteen: Hester and Pearl
What did Pearl make out of eelgrass?

Why does Pearl think Hester wears the A?

Why does Hester tell her she wears it? How does Pearl respond to this?

Chapter Sixteen: A Forest Walk
Why does Hester want to meet with Dimmesdale?

How does she get to see him?

What does Pearl say about the sunshine?

How does Dimmesdale look?

Activities for Part Two – Choose one activity to complete
Respond to the following quote from the book: "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."

After so many years, Hester has difficulty finding the courage to speak to Chillingworth. Put yourself in Hester’s place, and write a letter to Chillingworth. Before you begin, identify three or four specific statements you want to make. Then build the letter around them. Remember, you and Chillingworth share a secret, but you have not communicated with the man in seven long years. Be sure to use the time period language.
Questions Part Three - answer on a separate sheet of paper.
Chapter Seventeen: The Pastor and his Parishioners
What did Dimmesdale ask Hester?

How does he compare their conditions?

How did nature seem to sympathize with their moods?

What does Dimmesdale fear?

What does Hester suggest he do?

Chapter Eighteen: A Flood of Sunshine
What did Dimmesdale do? What effect did the decision have?

What did Hester do with the scarlet letter? How did she feel?

How does nature react?

Chapter Nineteen: The Child at the Brookside
Why was Dimmesdale afraid of Pearl?

How does Dimmesdale view Pearl and the brook?

What did Hester do with the scarlet letter? What else did she have to do before Pearl would go to her?

After Pearl kissed Hester what else did she do?

What did Pearl do when Dimmesdale kissed her?

Chapter Twenty: The Minister in a Maze
What had Dimmesdale thought had really happened in the forest?

What were the physical effects on Dimmesdale after the meeting with Hester?

When Dimmesdale heard a knock on his door, what did he expect to see?

What was Dimmesdale busy with the entire night?

Chapter Twenty-One: The New England Holiday
What does Peal think of Dimmesdale’s conduct towards her?

What does the commander tell Hester? Who told him this?

How did Chillingworth look upon her?

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Procession
What did the townspeople think when they saw Dimmesdale?

What kind of sermon did Dimmesdale give?

What message did the seaman tell Pearl to give to Hester?

What was Hester’s reaction?

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter
What did Dimmesdale do as the people were moving from church?

What was the effect of the scene upon the crowd?

What did Dimmesdale say to Hester?

What did he do with his minstrel gown?

What was the effect on Chillingworth?

What did Pearl do?

How did Dimmesdale feel God had shown his mercy on him?

Chapter Twenty-Four: Conclusion
Afterward, what opinions were expressed regarding the scarlet letter above the minister’s heart?

What became of Chillingworth?

Where did Hester and Pearl go?

What was the attitude of people towards her?

What became of Pearl?

Activities for Part Three - Choose one activity to complete
Is Arthur Dimmesdale a remarkably strong character to have carried his burden of guilt for so many years? Or was he weak for not having the courage to confess? Given what we know about him, would he have been able to run away with Hester and Pearl and start a new life? Cite evidence from the text to support your opinions.

Although the “A” is the most prominent symbol in The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne uses many other symbols throughout the novel. Research the following symbols and explain its meaning within the context of the story:
The color black, the forest, the brook, the roses, Indians, Hester’s clothing, Pearl’s clothing, Pearl’s name the meteor, golden embroidery on the “A”

Explore parallel situations between the Reverend Dimmesdale and contemporary political or religious leaders you may have read about in the news. Discuss this in well thought out paragraphs.