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The Scarlet Letter. Alice, Nancy, Sally, Sylvia. American Lit. I Cecilia H. C. Liu 13 th Dec. 2004. Outline. Discussion Questions Background Information Romance, Reality, Ethics Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter Ironies from the Aspect of Religion in The Scarlet Letter Works Cited.

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the scarlet letter

The Scarlet Letter

Alice, Nancy, Sally, Sylvia

American Lit. I

Cecilia H. C. Liu

13th Dec. 2004


  • Discussion Questions
  • Background Information
  • Romance, Reality, Ethics
  • Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
  • Ironies from the Aspect of Religion in The Scarlet Letter
  • Works Cited


puritanism in new england
Puritanism in New England
  • Definitions
  • Beliefs
  • Covenant between God and his elect
  • Church Membership


events in salem
Events in Salem
  • Samuel Parris
  • Elizabeth, Betty, Abigail Willams, Tituba
  • Ann Putnam, Mercy Lewis
  • Tituba, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne


causes for the outbreak of witchcraft hysteria in salem
Causes for the Outbreak of Witchcraft Hysteria in Salem
  • Strong belief that Satan is acting in the world.
  • A belief that Satan recruits witches and wizards to work for him.
  • A belief that a person afflicted by witchcraft exhibits certain symptoms.
  • A time of troubles, making it seem likely that Satan was active.


causes for the outbreak of witchcraft hysteria in salem 2
Causes for the Outbreak of Witchcraft Hysteria in Salem 2
  • Stimulation of imaginations by Tituba.
  • Teenage boredom.
  • Magistrates and judges receptive to accusations of witchcraft.
  • Confessing "witches" adding credibility to earlier charges.


how the hysteria ended
How the Hysteria Ended
  • Doubts began to grow when the respected citizens are convicted and executed.
  • Accusations of witchcraft include both the powerful and well-connected.
  • The educated elites of Boston pressured Gov. Phips to exclude spectral evidences.
  • Gov. Phips’ disbandment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer.


  • Hester was morally wrong in her act, but was morally right in the acceptance of her wrong.
  • Dimmesdale was morally wrong in his act, but in keeping this enormous secret from the community, the town of Salem, was better off, for the good of the community.
  • In the beginning Roger Chillingworth seems not to be in the wrong, but in the end he became the most immoral one of all.



Psychological Romance

  • Human alienation and its effects on the soul.
  • Doubt and self-torture.
  • Rebellion and defiance in the face of repressive laws


romance 2
Romance 2

Gothic Romance Gothic Elements:

  • A manuscript and a scarlet letter
  • Besides magic, often Gothic stories have castles
  • A crime, often illicit love.
  • Nature: darkness, shadows and moonlight


reality vs perception
Reality vs. Perception
  • Throughout the novel, the scaffold and forest show up in the book and represent many different things. Their primary function, however, is to provide a driving wedge between those who recognize reality, like Hester and Dimmesdale, and those who only see what they want to see. In contrast, Pearl is the only one among them all that stays innocent and does not know what was going on.


symbolism in the scarlet letter
Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
  • symbol-In literature, a symbol is most often a concrete object used to represent an idea more abstract and broader in scope and meaning--- often a moral, religious, or philosophical concept or value.
  • allegory(諷喻,寓言)-An allegory in literature is a story where characters, objects, and events have a hidden meaning and are used to present some universal lesson.
  • Hawthorne has a perfect atmosphere for the symbols in The Scarlet Letter because the Puritans saw the world through allegory.


symbolism in the scarlet letter14
Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
  • Hawthorne uses his characters as symbols, disclosing the grim underside of Puritanism that hides under the public piety.
  • Some of Hawthorne’s symbols change their meaning, depending on the context, and some are static.

e.g. static symbols: Reverend Mr. Wilson (church), Governor Bellingham (the State)

changed symbols: the characters, the scarlet A


symbols the characters
Symbols–The Characters

1. Hester---

the public sinner who changes and learns from her own sorrow to understand the humanity of others

•seen as a fallen woman, a culprit who deserves the ignominy of her immoral choice

•over the seven years of punishment, her inner struggle:

victim of Puritan branding---> a decisive woman in tune with human nature

• her sensitivity with society’s victim turns her symbolic meaning:

a person whose life was originally twisted & repressed ---> a strong &sensitive woman with respect for the humanity of others


symbols the characters 2
Symbols–The Characters 2

2. Dimmesdale---

a secret sinner who fights the good fight in his soul and eventually wins.

• Inside him, a storm rages between holiness& self-torture, unable to reveal his sin

• A symbol of hypocrisy and self-centered intellectualism

• Sin and its acknowledgement to humanize Dimmesdale


symbols the characters 3
Symbols–The Characters 3

3. Pearl---

the scarlet letter in the flesh, a reminder of Hester’s sin, a sin redeemed

•Dimmesdale: “the freedom of a broken law”

•Hester:“the living hieroglyphic” of their sin

•the community:“the result of the devil’s work

• not only a sin but a vital spirit and passion that endangered that sin, a blessing to Hester


symbols the characters 4
Symbols–The Characters 4

4. Chillingworth---

A symbol of devil and intellect without human compassion

•compared to a snake, an allusion to the Garden of Eden

•fiendish, evil, intent on revenge

•awakens the distrust of the Puritan community and recognition of Pearl

•loses his reason to live after Dimmesdale’s confession


symbols the scarlet a a sign of adultery penitence
Symbols–The Scarlet AA sign of adultery, penitence(悔過)

In the 2nd scaffold scene, the scarlet A in the sky

  • The community:

The dying Governor Winthrop has become an angel

  • Dimmesdale: a sign of his own secret sin. For instance, the letter A on Hester’s bosom represents as a mark of just punishment and a symbol to deter others from sin ---> represents “Able” or “Angel”


symbols light and color
Symbols–Light and Color
  • Darkness in the forest/jail—guilt, Chillingworth, punishment
  • Night time—a symbol of concealment
  • Noon—time of confession
  • Sunlight/daylight—a symbol of exposure
  • Red—the letter, the “scarlet woman,”“Chillingworth’s eyes, streak of the meteor
  • Black & gray—the Puritans, gloom, death, sin, the path of righteousness through the forest of sin

(Chap. 5,11,12)


symbols the settings
Symbols–The Settings
  • The Puritan village —sin, punishment, self-examination
  • The collective community —the rigid Puritan point view with absolute obedience to the law
  • The forest —

a. Natural world, opposed to the artificial, Puritan community

b. A moral wilderness for Hester

c. World of darkness and evil

d. A symbol of man’s temptation


ironies in the scarlet letter

Ironies in The Scarlet Letter

---From the Aspect of Religion


the top 10 ironical elements in sc
The Top 10 Ironical Elements in SC
  • People treat ministers as if they are saints or God, but the actual fact is that those ministers are also human, just as sinful as they are.
  • People (including Chillingworth, Wilson and the townsman) consider that Hester Prynne is a sinner, as they continuously criticize her for her sin of adultery, when those people are as well sinful as herself.


the top 10 ironical elements in sc 2
The Top 10 Ironical Elements in SC 2
  • They claim themselves Puritans, especially Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, but could not really believe the power of God’s forgiveness, with their minds full of doubts and questions.
  • Throughout the novel, Hester Prynne, or Mr. Dimmesdale, neither of them has asked God for forgiveness, but only showed fright and anxiety in their hearts, and do not choose to pray and ask for it


the top 10 ironical elements in sc 3
The Top 10 Ironical Elements in SC 3
  • Mr. Dimmesdale, when he announced and proclaimed his sins, acted as if he had the right to sin, in front of all his peoples.
  • The meeting of the witch-lady with the minister, suggest that the minister does not have the ability to ask God to send him away from temptations.
  • Ministers do not put their trust in God when they realize their sins, but ask common people to help them.


the top 10 ironical elements in sc 4
The Top 10 Ironical Elements in SC 4
  • The irony of the freedom from one sin at one time, does not mean that sins would leave him forever.
  • The disappearance of sins is by forgetting and not asking for forgiveness
  • The disorder of the power of God and religious leaders, particularly when people asked the ministers to forgive their sins rather than God.


examples 1
Examples 1
  • Ch3 B1369/ 48-49The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, [ . . . ] cup that is now presented to thy lips!”
  • Ch11 B1410/98-99It is inconceivable, [ . . . ] am utterly a pollution and a lie!”
  • Ch 2 B1360/ 38“People say,” [ . . . ] so walk the streets as brave as ever!”
  • Ch2 B1362/ 40“Make way, [ . . . ] and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!”
  • Ch3 B1366/ 45 “It behooves him well, [ . . . ] to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom,”


examples 2
Examples 2
  • Ch 14 B1426 /118“I must reveal the secret, [ . . . ] There is no path to guide us out of this dismal maze!”
  • Ch 17 B1436/ 130-31“You wrong yourself in this,” [ . . . ] all emptiness!—all death!”
  • Ch11 B1411/ 99-100His inward trouble drove [ . . . ] under the lock and key.
  • Ch 12 B1412-13 /102And thus, while standing on the scaffold, [ . . . ] and were bandying it to and fro.


examples 3
Examples 3
  • Ch 23 B1468 / 170-71 “Madman, hold! [ . . . ] that there was a feeble smile upon his lips.
  • Ch 23 B1469-70 /172 With a convulsive motion [ . . . ] out of which the life seemed to have departed.
  • Ch 17 B1439/ 134 “The judgment [ . . . ] what to do.
  • Ch 20 B1451-52/ 150 “So, reverend Sir, you have made a visit into the forest, [ . . . ] we shall have other talk together!”


examples 4
Examples 4
  • Ch 24 B1473-74 / 177-78 She assured them, too, [ . . . ] by the truest test of a life successful to such an end!
  • Ch 18 B1441/ 137-38 So, speaking, [ . . . ] sinkings of the heart, and unaccountable misfortune.
  • Ch 17 B1437/ 132 “I might have known [ . . . ] Thou shalt forgive!”


more information

More Information

To see more information, click here to see the complete list of the irony examples illustrated in The Scarlet Letter.


biblical passages
Biblical Passages
  • Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)
  • “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke: 18:13)
  • As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.


biblical passages 2
Biblical Passages 2
  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
  • For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:10)


biblical passages 3
Biblical Passages 3
  • “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil.” (Matthew: 6:13)
  • “No temptation has seized you except what is common to men. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)


works cited
Works Cited
  • Cliffnotes: The Fastest Way to Learn.
  • Classic Note on The Scarlet Letter.
  • “Introduction to Hester and Pearl in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne”Hawthorne in Salem.


works cited 2
Works Cited 2
  • “To Be My Own Human Child: Parenting and Romance” Hawthorne and the Culture of the Family Panel ALA, May 2003. Hawthorne in Salem.


  • “Themes, Motifs and Symbols” SparkNotes.
  • “The Morality Issue”
  • “Symbolism.”
  • The Holy Bible. NIV version. Zondervan Bible Publishers. Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1988.
  • Linder, Douglass. An Account of Events in Salem.


discussion questions repression vs freedom appearance vs reality hierarchies of evil
Discussion Questions: Repression vs. Freedom Appearance vs. Reality Hierarchies of Evil
  • How is SL a novel about betrayal? Who betrays who?
  • Consider Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth. Are "good" intentions justification for presenting a false face to the world?
  • Consider the character of Chillingsworth. His words have the crystal ring of truth, yet the man is evil and insidious. Are we to trust his judgements, even though we distrust the man? Put another way, are we to take scripture on faith when the devil quotes it for his own use?
  • Consider the essential elements of Romanticism. Romantics believed that man’s essential ‘nature’ would lead to a happier state. Yet in Hester, Chillingsworth, and Dimmesdale Hawthorne comments on the nature of, and the dangers of, following an uninstructed conscience. What is it that he is suggesting?


discussion questions 2 law vs nature sin and redemption appearance vs reality hierarchies of evil
Discussion Questions 2: Law vs. nature Sin and Redemption Appearance vs. Reality Hierarchies of Evil
  • Consider Hester, Chillingsworth, and Dimmesdale. Who has the greatest sin? Why?
  • How do Hawthorne’s use of light and dark, and his use of place, help frame the conflicts and characters in SL?
  • Hester Prynne considers herself a morally superior individual standing in defiance of society. She also considers herself a contrite woman who is atoning in some way for her transgressions. Find evidence for both in the first 10 chpts of The Scarlet Letter, then present the best evidence for which interpretation you think is more accurate.
  • Some critics have called Pearl "half child and half symbol." Find the best examples in the text to support that characterization.