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The Scarlet Letter. Chapters 1 and 2. Summary Ch. 1. Begins by looking at a group of men and women in austere clothing standing around a prison door. Hawthorne discusses how settlements always find it necessary to establish a prison.

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the scarlet letter

The Scarlet Letter

Chapters 1 and 2

summary ch 1
Summary Ch. 1
  • Begins by looking at a group of men and women in austere clothing standing around a prison door.
  • Hawthorne discusses how settlements always find it necessary to establish a prison.
  • Then he describes the prison as an “ugly edifice” and contrasts it with a rosebush near the door which offers “fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner.”
summary ch 2
Summary Ch. 2
  • Focus returns to the group of men and women around the prison door.
  • The group looks as if they are ready for an execution.
  • A group of women begin discussing whether or not the punishment of Hester Prynne was severe enough.
  • They believe that the magistrates should have branded Hester for her crime.
summary ch 21
Summary Ch. 2
  • Hester is then led out of the prison by the beadle.
  • A scarlet letter “A” is attached to Hester’s clothing and she is led to the town pillory where she is to left for the entire village to mock.
  • Hester reflects upon her childhood home in England, her parents, and the path her life has taken to reach this moment.

Antinomian- one who holds that under the gospel

dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation

Beadle- a minor parish official whose duties include ushering and preserving order at services and sometimes civil functions

Deportment- the way that a person behaves, stands, and moves especially in a formal situation


Edifice- a large and usually impressive building (such as achurch or government building)

Heterodox- not agreeing with established beliefs orstandards

Ignominious- causing disgrace or shame

Magistrate- a local official who has some of the powers ofa judge


Phantasmagoric- confusing or strange, like a dream;always changing in an odd way

Physiognomy- the appearance of a person's face

Scaffold- a platform or structure on which criminals arekilled by being hanged or beheaded


Sin should be punished publicly.

  • The scarlet letter is meant to make sure that everyone can see that Hester is a sinner.
  • Hester is put in the town pillory and the entire village comes out to see her.

Society needs a scapegoat.

  • The women standing debating how severe Hester’s punishment should have been repeatedly call her an adulteress and use this conversation to reassure themselves of their own righteousness.
  • The narrator describes the scaffold as “as effectual an agent, in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was the guillotine” (Pg. 57). This indicates that Hester is being symbolically sacrificed for her sins.

Beauty is for everyone.

  • The rosebush next to the prison door is described as offering “fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner” (Pg. 50).
  • Hester, the condemned adulteress is described as being the most beautiful woman in the colony and is referred to as “ladylike” many times.
puritan ideas
Puritan Ideas
  • Harsh, public shaming for minor offences.
  • Plain, gray clothing.
  • Religion as a source of government and dominant force in society.
romantic ideas
Romantic Ideas
  • Strong, independent women.
  • Beautiful clothing worn by Hester.
character analysis
Character Analysis


  • Unashamed, beautiful, adulteress, lady-like, desperately reckless, English, remembers her past when she is in the pillory

The Beadle

  • Administers the law, praises Massachusetts for conducting its business in the sunshine
character analysis1
Character Analysis

The hard-featured dame

  • Judges Hester, thinks that her punishment should have been more severe, uses Hester to reassure herself that she is godly

Reverend Master Dimmesdale

  • Embarrassed that such a scandal occurred in his congregation
  • The Puritan society is based on religion but is not actually godly.
  • Hester is described as the most beautiful person we have yet seen, and yet is the criminal.
narrative voice
Narrative Voice
  • Sympathetic to Hester
  • Speaking from the future
  • Works at the Salem Custom House and discovers documents about the events
  • Descended from Puritans
symbolism and color
Symbolism and Color
  • Gray dreary colors of the Puritans’ clothing
  • Beautiful, red rosebush
  • Prison is antique, perhaps saying that the Puritans’ form of punishment is archaic
  • Hawthorne compares the pillory to the guillotine and alludes to the French Revolution
  • Hawthorne alludes to the founding of Massachusetts and the Puritans role within it

The puritans used many creative forms of punishment in their society. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester had to wear the letter “A” to let the town know about her crime. Other forms of public shaming, such as putting criminals in stocks, were also common.

Draw a crime from the hat and come up with a punishment for that crime. Write your punishment down on your own sheet of paper and be ready to share it with the class.


Answer on your own sheet of paper:

  • Where does the book begin?
  • How do the women around the jail think Hester should have been punished?
  • What is an edifice?
  • Did the Puritans believe in separation of church and state?
  • What color clothing did most Puritans wear?
  • Who was the leader of the town’s congregation?
  • How was Hester the Puritan’s scapegoat?
  • Why did the puritan’s prefer to publicly shame criminals rather than just lock them up for life or hang them?

BONUS: What is the best sport in the winter olympics?