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by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne:. Hawthorne once said: “I do not want to be a doctor and live by man’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”.

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nathaniel hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne:
  • Hawthorne once said: “I do not want to be a doctor and live by man’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”

About the Author:

  • Born July 4, 1804 in Salem, Mass.
  • Reclusive at times
  • Served as a magazine editor
  • Worked in the Salem Custom House
  • Lived at Brook Farm
  • Wrote Twice-Told Tales, The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Letter, etc.
  • Married Sophia Peabody and fathered Una (who became the model for Pearl)
  • Served as the United States Consul to Liverpool
  • Died in 1864
  • Buried in Concord, Massachusetts
  • Great-great-great-great grandfather, John Hathorne, was judge at Salem witch trials
historical context
Historical Context:
  • Boston Colony founded 1630
  • John Winthrop (leader)
  • Puritans wanted to “purify” the Church of England of all traces of Catholicism in liturgy, theology, and church organization
  • Recognized the Bible as the sole source of religious authority
  • Maintained a theocracy
  • Believed in predestination or Doctrine of the Elect
  • Inflicted public punishments to deter others from straying from righteousness (hanging, whipping, humiliation, etc.)
the custom house
The Custom House:
  • Hawthorne claims to have gotten the idea for this novel from the papers of Jonathan Pue.
  • Among the papers, Hawthorne allegedly found an embroidered scarlet “A” and information on Hester Prynne.

Frame Story:

Nathaniel Hawthorne  author

Unnamed Narrator

(from Hawthorne’s time)

Narrator finds manuscript in Customs House written by Jonathan Pue from 100 years before narrator works there.

Pue’s manuscript tells the story of Hester Prynne of 100 years before Pue’stime.

Created by Mrs. W. Warren

the custom house1
The Custom House:
  • Describes the interior/exterior of the Custom House
  • Describes Hawthorne’s feelings about his native town of Salem
  • Makes critical comments about the Whig party/ reveals Hawthorne’s involvement as a Democrat
  • Describes his early attempts to write Hester’s story.

Defining “Scarlet:”

Function: adjective

1 of the color scarlet

2 a: grossly and glaringly offensive <sinning in flagrant and scarlet fashion -- characterized by, or associated with sexual immorality <a scarlet woman>

Function: noun

Middle English scarlat, scarlet, from Anglo-French escarlet, from Medieval Latin scarlata, from Persian saqalAt, a kind of rich cloth

1: scarlet cloth or clothes

2: any of various bright reds

Main Entry: scarlet letter

Function: noun: a scarlet A worn as a punitive mark of adultery


Defining “Puritan:”

Main Entry: 1pu·ri·tanFunction: nounEtymology: probably from Late Latin puritas purity1capitalized: a member of a 16th and 17th century Protestant group in England and New England opposing as unscriptural the ceremonial worship and the prelacy of the Church of England2 one who practices or preaches a more rigorous or professedly purer moral code than that which prevails

See Endicott and the Red Cross Chapter at the end of the book.

plot setting
  • The novel is set in the mid 1600s in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • The plot encompasses a seven year period.
  • The plot involves the love triangle of wife-lover-husband.
  • The major theme of the novel is developed in the context of good vs. evil.
point of view
Point of View:
  • Third-Person Omniscient… Hawthorne reveals the inner and outer workings of the characters and provides social criticism, history, and psychology.
writing characteristics
Writing Characteristics:

1)It is a cultural allegory and structurally compact.

twenty-four chapters

are knitted together


in the beginning, the middle, and the end

All the four major characters are at the scene.

writing characteristics1
Writing Characteristics:

2)Hawthorne's ambiguity—

People offer different views concerning the sign of the letter “A” on the dead minister's chest. The author doesn't give his views. So, people come up with different interpretations.

writing characteristics2
Writing Characteristics:

3)It is a kind of romance:

Two lovers come together, finally united in death.

4)Hawthorne's use of the supernatural:

The appearance of the symbol “A” in the sky is: in twilight atmosphere, all things, natural or otherwise, may become probable.

writing characteristics3
Writing Characteristics:

5) His use of symbols—

the central symbol

the scarlet letter “A”




“A” appears in the sky

a token of shame


Hester Prynne


The main characters

Arthur Dimmesdale

Roger Chillingworth


Roger Chillingworth

Arthur Dimmesdale



Hester Prynne



hester prynne
Hester Prynne:
  • The protagonist of the novel who is an English woman and the wife of Roger Chillingworth.
  • She is tried and condemned for her sin of adultery with Dimmesdale and charged to wear the scarlet letter, "A", an indication of adultery, on the bosom of her gown forever.
  • Even though she has a daughter out of wedlock, she refuses to reveal who the father is.
  • As a young woman, her youthful beauty, luxuriant hair, and excellent features are diminished by her self-effacing puritanical way of dressing.
  • As an older lady, she returns to Boston where she is finally accepted for her kindness and service.
major characters in the scarlet letter
Major charactersin The Scarlet Letter

attractive, appealing, intelligent, capable

Passionate—has a love affair with Dimmesdale

strong and stoic—she endures years of shame and scorn


contemplative—speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger moral questions.

maternal—moderates her tendency to be rash; cares for the poor and brings them food and clothing

a protofeminist mother figure to the women of the community


Major characters in The Scarlet Letter

Attractive, appealing, intelligent, capable

Passionate—has a love affair with Dimmesdale

Strong and stoic—she endures years of shame and scorn


Contemplative—speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger moral questions.

Maternal—moderates her tendency to be rash; cares for the poor and brings them food and clothing

—a protofeminist mother figure to the women of the community

why does hester repeatedly refuse to stop wearing the letter
Why does Hester repeatedly refuse to stop wearing the letter?

A“her passport into regions where other women dared not tread”

her behavior

She desires to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her

She is determined to transform its meaning through her actions and her own self-perception

She is unwilling to erase her past deed and her past decisions

She is not the example of sin that she was once intended to be. Rather, she is an example of redemption and self-empowerment.

arthur dimmesdale
Arthur Dimmesdale:
  • The young, handsome, and unmarried pastor of Hester's church.
  • Apart from committing adultery with Hester, he is guilty of hiding his sin.
  • His intense suffering and remorse, however, are reflected in his rundown physical appearance.
  • He emerges as the tragic figure of the novel around whom revolves the plot's suspense and on whom the reader's attention is centered. Thus, he is also considered a protagonist, like Hester.
what makes dimmesdale s mental anguish
What makes Dimmesdale’s mental anguish?

1.That Hester takes all of the blame for their shared sin goads his conscience, and is the cause of his resultant mental anguish.

2.The townspeople do not believe Dimmesdale’s protestations of sinfulness. This drives Dimmesdale to further internalize his guilt and self-punishment and leads to still more deterioration in his physical and spiritual condition.

roger chillingworth
Roger Chillingworth:
  • A scholarly physician who has sent his wife ahead of him to America.
  • He fails to join her quickly, for he is captured by Indians from whom he gathers a knowledge of herbal medicine.
  • He is an old, evil, vicious, ugly, and deformed man.
  • His diabolical vengeance on Dimmesdale, while pretending to treat him, makes him the personification of evil.

true evil

  • His name a man deficient in human warmth
  • His appearance twisted, stooped, deformed shoulders his distorted soul
  • His identity of a “leech”  he feeds on the vitality of others as a way of energizing his own projects.
  • He is interested in revenge after Dimmesdale dies, Chillingworth no longer has a victim. Having lost the objects of his revenge, the leech has no choice but to die.
  • The beautiful daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale.
  • She is the living symbol of the scarlet letter and has peculiar traits that make her sometimes appear as a demon.
  • Her love for nature and freedom, her vivacious spirit, her alienation, her rebelliousness, her inquisitiveness, and her innocent but symbolic comments reveal her distinct personality.
  • She is, however, a product of the difficult situation into which she is born.
  • Themes are universal ideas that an author wants to express through his/her writings.

A theme is not the “topic”, but rather an idea about the topic that an author wants to put forth.

EXAMPLE: The topic of a love story is, of course, love. The theme, however, may be that real love goes beyond outer beauty and focuses on the person within.

some themes in the scarlet letter
Some Themes in The Scarlet Letter:
  • Forgiveness and Revenge
  • Guilt and Innocence
  • Truth and Lies
  • Hypocrisy
forgiveness and revenge
Forgiveness and Revenge:
  • Chillingworth seeks his revenge for Hester's adultery, but it poisons his soul and destroys any happiness he might have found.
  • His only vindication comes when he leaves his inheritance to little Pearl.
guilt and innocence
Guilt and Innocence:
  • Hester accepts her guilt and her punishment without complaint.
  • Arthur Dimmesdale hides his guilt, and it destroys him from within. He cannot bear what he has done, but has not the courage to face his sins.
  • Pearl is the innocent product of her parent's guilt and sin, but she is innocent and beautiful. She grows up to live a life of luxury.
truth and lies
Truth and Lies:
  • Arthur Dimmesdale cannot face his sin. He does not have the courage to face his punishment. He secretly carves the “A” into his chest in a vain attempt to punish himself. The real punishment is that which his own guilt and lies do to his soul. They destroy him from within.
  • Hester accepts her punishment. She does not hide from it, and she is , at the end, vindicated because no one remembers her sin.
  • Roger Chillingworth hides his true identity. In so doing, he becomes filled with bitterness, hatred, and evil. It is only when he leaves an inheritance to little Pearl that the reader feels any sympathy toward him.
be true
Be True:
  • Because both Chillingworth and Dimmesdale live a lie, they suffer more than Hester, whose sin is known.
  • The townspeople shun Hester and the children are forbidden to play with little Pearl. Yet they seek Hester's skills as a seamstress, and they secretly envy the beauty of the embellished "A" that adorns her clothing....adornment that they, as Puritans of plain and simple lifestyle are forbidden to wear.
  • Arthur Dimmesdale enjoys the prestige of being a well-respected minister, a man of God. Yet, he is the father of Hester's child, the sinful adulterer the townspeople want Hester to name.
  • It is Hester’s pride that helps her survive .
  • It is Arthur Dimmesdale’s pride that leads to his destruction.
  • It is Roger Chillingworth’s pride that leads him to be a bitter, evil person obsessed with vindictiveness.

Focuses his attention on the moral, emotional, and psychological effects of the sin on the people


Everybody is potentially a sinner, and great moral courage is indispensable for the improvement of human nature.

The book is an examination of the forces that shape Hester and the transformations those forces effect; it is a hymn on the moral growth of the woman when sinned against.




confesses her guilt, faces the future optimistically,helps others

hides his guilt first

morally degrades others by his pursuit of revenge

Undergoes physical and spiritual torments

is able to construct her life, wins a moral success,



moral growth,



  • The Scarlet Letter is filled with symbolism. Symbolism is when one thing is used to represent something else.

EXAMPLE: A Skull and Crossbones is a symbol of poisonous substances or something dangerous.

darkness vs light
Darkness vs. Light:
  • Sunshine seldom shines on Hester, but often on Pearl. Sunshine represents goodness while the darkness represents evil and hidden sins.
  • The forest is a dark and forbidding place that the Puritans felt was full of evil. This is the place where Hester and Arthur meet years after Pearl is born, and it is only there that they can feel free enough to express their long repressed feelings for one another, for it is here that the rules of society cannot penetrate.
the sunlight does not shine on hester
The Sunlight Does Not Shine on Hester—
  • “Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” “Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester. “And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?”
dimmesdale hides in the light
Dimmesdale Hides in the Light:
  • It is only in the dark of night that Arthur Dimmesdale can allow himself to come out and "reveal" his sin as he does in the dark of night on the scaffold where Hester’s sin was revealed in the light of day.
  • Pearls are formed in oysters when a grain of sand slips inside and irritates the oyster. The oyster covers the irritant and it becomes a thing of rare beauty.
  • Just like a real pearl, Pearl in The Scarlet Letter is born of her mother's shame and suffering, but has become a precious, rare, and beautiful child.
the rosebush by the prison door
The Rosebush by the Prison Door:
  • The prison is a place of despair and doom, but the rose growing by the door represents the beauty and forgiveness of nature.
the scaffold
The Scaffold:
  • The scaffold is a place of punishment.
  • It is a place where Hester is sentenced to stand for hours with little Pearl in her arms.
  • It is this same scaffold that Arthur Dimmesdale sneaks out to in the dark of night to punish himself as he should have been punished years earlier with Hester and Pearl.
the letter a
The Letter “A”:
  • The "A" represents adultery in the beginning of the book. It is Hester's punishment for committing sin. She wears it with stoic endurance and embellishes it with gold threads until it becomes a thing of beauty.
  • Later in the novel, the town has forgotten Hester's original sin. The "A" is thought to represent "able" or "angel.” When the meteor makes a phenomenal "A" in the night sky, the town is in awe of its wonder. They think it must be "Angel" .
  • We may also associate the letter with “Alone” or “Alienation.”
what does a mean to the chief characters respectively
What does “A” mean to the chief characters respectively?
    • For Puritan society, it just means punishment.
    • For Hester, it means unjust humiliation.
    • For Dimmesdale, it’s a reminder of his own sin.
    • For Chillingworth, it’s a request for revenge.
    • For Pearl, it’s nothing but a beautiful cloth.
  • It is a guide for Hester to go to heaven, and Dimmesdale hell.
  • Irony of situation : When we expect one thing to happen, but the opposite happens instead.
  • Verbal Irony: When someone says one thing, but actually means the opposite.
  • Dramatic Irony: When the reader knows something that the characters in a story do not know.
dramatic irony in the scarlet letter
Dramatic Irony in The Scarlet Letter:
  • The reader knows that Arthur Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father. The townspeople do not know this.
  • The reader knows that Roger Chillingworth is Hester’s husband. The townspeople do not know this.
situational irony in the scarlet letter
Situational Irony in The Scarlet Letter:
  • The symbol of Hester’s sin (the “A”) that could have destroyed Hester has made her stronger and envied by those who shunned her.
irony cont
Irony (cont.):
  • The "A" that Hester is forced to wear, and which she hates in the beginning, becomes a valued part of her identity. She even refuses to remove it when she no longer is required to wear it. She panics when the town considers allowing her to remove it.
irony cont1
Irony (cont.):
  • The sin that Arthur Dimmesdale hides because he is afraid it will destroy his reputation as the revered minister ends up destroying his very life.
irony cont2
Irony (cont.):
  • Pearl, who is shunned along with her mother, grows up to have all the luxuries that those who shunned her will never have.
works cited
Works Cited:
  • PowerPoint by Rebecca Jones
  • English III- Accelerated American Literature Grade 11
  • Advanced American Lit. Mr. Mays