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West Forsyth (3A)

Major Works Data Sheet

AP Language and Composition
Title of Work: Scarlet Letter

Characteristics of the genre

Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Historical fiction is a story set in a time previous to

that of the writer and reader, with characters who
react in varying degrees to historical events.
Historical fiction is based upon facts but has been
fictionalized by creating characters and events which
may not have been accurate but make for a good

Date of Publication: 1850

Genre: Romance

Historical Information about the period of publication:

This romantic fiction was published in 1850, which
began Nathaniel Hawthornes most profitable period.
In 1850 America was trying its hardest to unite the
states and become one nation. In the years prior to
1850 America struggled with theslave and non slave
states. Luckily the Compromise of 1850 helped solve
thedebate on this issue.
Theromantic and scandalous storyline was very rare
for this time. Other books published at this time were
Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn. These story lines are nothing more than
adventures and journeys of fictional characters.
"TheCompromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave
Act." PBS. PBS, 2012.Web. 03 June 2012.
"The ScarletLetter." Wikipedia. Wikimedia
Foundation, 29 May 2012. Web. 03 June2012.

Biographical information about the author

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4th in 1804 in
Salem Massachusetts. His childhood was surrounded
by the influence of Puritans; Hawthorne added the
w to his last name to separate from his familys
shame during the witch trails. As a young child his
father, a ship captain, passed away. He attended
Bowdoin College and tried to peruse a writing career,
eventually he had to work as a Boston custom house
measurer to make a living. Hawthorne died at the age
of sixty on May 19, 1864, in Plymouth, New
Hampshire after battling an illness.
"Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne." Biography of
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Grade Saver. Web. 02 June
2012. <

Plot summary:
At the beginning of the book, Hester Prynne is publicly humiliated for committing adultery. She was sent to
America by her husband, who was to follow shortly her, but did not show up. In his absence, Hester gave birth
to a child. She is on the scaffolds with her baby, Pearl, and Arthur Dimmesdale, the towns beloved pastor,
because the man involved is left a mystery. Arthur Dimmesdale is trying to get Hester to confess the man
involved in the adultery but she refuses to share her secret. Hester is forced to wear the letter A on her
bosom for all to be reminded of her crime and was ostracized. During the confrontation, a man comes into
town. Roger Chillingworth, a doctor, was Hesters old husband. Upon hearing the news about his old wife, he
creates a false identity and devotes his time trying to find the man responsible. Hester is the only person that
knows Chillingworths true identity and was sworn to secrecy. Hester and Pearl lived in a small cottage outside
of Boston where Hester earned a living by becoming a seamstress. Several chapters later, Chillingworth moves
in with Dimmesdale to help his growing illness. The two develop a strong friendship. Shortly into the
friendship, the reader finds out Chillingworth discovers Dimmesdale is the man responsible for the crime with
Hester. Instead of telling Dimmesdales secret, Chillingworth decides to let his guilty conscience kill him
slowly. It wasnt long until Dimmesdale could not take the guilt, so he went on the scaffold late one night to
confess. Hester and Pearl happen to be out and saw his confession. Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl, who was
now seven, all took hands. Pearl questions Dimmesdale about his public confession but Dimmesdale was not
ready to tell his daughter. A meteor went across the sky and made an A, much like the one Hester wore on her
chest. Hester planned a meeting in the forest with Dimmesdale where they discussed plans to move to England
to be a family. Dimmesdale gave an election speech a few hours later but he intended to leave town.
Dimmesdale knows what is right and confessed to the town on the scaffold, with Hester and Pearl at his side.
He revealed a scarlet letter seared into his skin on his chest and fell over dead. Hester and Pearl leave but
return sometime later. On their return they find out Chillingworth had died as well. Chillingworth had left all
of his possessions to Pearl.

Describe the authors style:

Hawthornes writing usually has allegories, morals,
and a sermon-like feel. He uses these to paint pictures
of life, and universal themes that played into the
Puritan lifestyle. Good versus evil and other extreme
opposites are the themes he used the most. These
showed the black-and-white thinking of the Puritans.

Give an example that demonstrates this style, and

explain how it does so:
In the Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses allegories in
the scene where Hester and Dimmesdale step into the
light in the middle of the forest to show truth being
shown, and also in the stark contrasts of light versus
darkness, and when things are being revealed if it is
light or dark. The morals play a part throughout the
novel by showing the inner conflict of Hester to
reveal or keep the secret of who Pearls father is, and
in the inner conflict of Dimmesdale and
Chillingworth as well. The lengthiness of chapters,
descriptions, and explanations, show Hawthornes
tendency to lecture on a subject. At the beginning of
chapter 2, Hawthorne's style is evident through his
use of overly explanatory descriptions of the jail and
of those waiting at the jail. His descriptions using
words like "Iron-clamped", "grim rigidity" ,
"scourged", "witch", "solemnity" and "cold", all show
the Puritan character, and their outlook on those who
deviated from their way of life. The length of his
sentences also shows the tenancy to lecture to an
unnecessary end. source:
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Ch. 2, The ScarletLetter: A
Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1850. 23Sep. 1999.

Memorable Quotations
Quotation (and speaker)
On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth,
surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and
fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter
A. (Ch 2 p.43)

Be not silent from any mistaken pity and
tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though
he were to step down from a high place, and stand
there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet
better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through
life. What can they silence do for him, except it

This is the set up and introduction of the letter A for
the readers. It acquaints the audience with a symbol
that reappears over and over again.

Here Dimmesdale is pleading with Hester to reveal

him as her fellow sinner in front of the assembled
crowd. He speaks of hypocrisy being bad for the
heart, but he only foreshadows the problems he will
encounter later on.

tempt him-yea, compel him, as it were-to add

hypocrisy to sin? (Ch3 p.53) -Dimmesdale
A man burdened with a secret should
especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. (Ch
9 p.97)

This quote shows irony because Chillingworth is

Dimmesdales physician and he has a secret that,
unbeknownst to either men, affects the doctor as well.

Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared,
This passage indicates for me, just how mean
there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice,
Chillingworth is and how much I do not care for
hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate
old man, which led him to imagine a more
intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked
upon an enemy. (Ch 11 p. 109)

Ye have both been here before, but I was not
with you. Come up hither once again, and we will
stand all three together. (Ch 12 p. 119) -Dimmesdale
And there stood the minister, with his hand
over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the
embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and
little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting
link between the two. (Ch 12 p. 120)

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 (Ch 16 p.
144) -Pearl

The minister is speaking to Pearl and Hester here.

This quote is important because it is another example
of Dimmesdale wanting to share in the guilt that
Hester and Pearl have had to openly deal with.
This passage sums up the entire past of this unique
family and the shame they each carry. The fact that
they all have a symbol really pulls the plot together.

The entire scene, from which this quotation comes,

shows how much Hester has had to suffer. The
author shows readers that not even the sun cares for
Hester. Furthermore, the audience sees the
intelligence Pearl possesses.

We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the
world. There is one worse than even the polluted
priest! That old mans revenge has been blacker
than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the
sanctity of a human heart (Ch 17 p. 153)

Here Dimmesdale comforts Hester as she battles

with self hatred for her sins. The author reveals just
how bad Chillingworths sin is in comparison and
how important the sanctity of the heart is to him.

And will he always keep his hand over his
heart? (Ch 19 p. 167) -Pearl

This shows Pearls persceptiveness and how aware

she is of her surroundings. This also reminds readers
that Dimmesdales heart hurts and Hesters always

aware of the Scarlet letter on her bosom.

10. We must not always talk in the marketplace of what happens to us in the forest. (Ch 22
p. 188) - Hester

To me, this quote shows that the author uses the

forest as a place to reveal the truth and that the
characters hold the forest as a sanctuary and refuse to
carry those truths into the open.

Characters name:
1. Hester Prynne

2. Pearl

3. Roger

4. Rev.

5.Gov. Bellingham

6.Mistress Hibbins

Major Characters
Role (what role does this
Significance (why is this
person have in the story?)
character significant to the
The events in the novel
revolve around Hester and
her struggle of being an
adulterer. Hester is also
used to show the poor
treatment of women during
the time of the Puritans.
Hesters daughter
Pearl is unknowingly wise
and is able to realize
things that arent stated so
subtly. She is happy around
her true father and hateful
around others like Roger
Hesters husband and major Roger comes into the
novel looking for revenge.
He sues the fact that he is a
doctor to make the people
of Boston appreciate him.
He also uses his knowledge
to get closer to Dimmsdale.
Hesters lover
Dimmsdale hurts from
inside because he has to
watch Hester go through
all the pain and turmoil.
His allegiance to the
church is more important
than what he has with
Hester therefore he finds it
hard to confess because it
will not only hurt his
standing, but also his
Leader in the community
As governor, Bellingham
who is in power
is sought as the authority
figure and he makes
decisions such as Hester
being allowed to keep
The sister of Bellingham
Hibbins is important
who lives in his house and
because she shows the
sneaks out at night to be a
hypocrisy of the town
witch in the woods
because although she is
known to be a witch, she is
not put on trial because of
who she is related to.

Character traits (what sort

of person is this?)
Hester is a loving mother
and tries to be kind to those
around her. She may seem
bitter at some times
because of the horrible
ways she is treated at
Mischievous, Wild

Vengeful, Angry,

Eloquent speaker,
intelligent, troubled

Devilish, Strange, Dark,

Conniving, Evil, Crazy

7.John Wilson

Reverend Wilson is the

more elderly clergyman
who is very strict and who
preaches much more
damnation than

Wilson serves the role of

the more strict religious
leader and is the
stereotypical Puritan and is
one of the men who judge

Strict, Pure, Powerful,


Describe the setting(s) and the mood the setting(s)

The Scarlet Letter takes place in Puritan town during
the 17th century.
Boston, Massachusetts.
In Hesters Cottage Hester and Pearl
The Church Hester, Pearl, the preacher, Dimmesdale
The Scaffold- Hester and Pearl, Dimmesdale joins
them once in the night
Bitter- Everyone feels bitter towards Hester and what
she has done because it is not right.
Hatred- Everyone has hatred for her and whoever she
had committed adultery with.
Love- Even though Pearl was a mistake Hester still
loves her.
Evil- Pearl has a slight devil side.
Sneaky- When Hester is keeping the father of Pearl a
Anxiety- Hester and her lover feel this while they are
keeping their secret.
Sadness- They arent allowed to share their secret and
be happy together.
Desperate- Longing to want the truth out and the
burden off their chest.

Major symbols, motifs, images:

Scarlet A : represents her sins and mistakes she has
made in the past and baring a child out of wed-lock.
From adultery to able the A changed the symbol
and meaning behind it throughout the book.

What is the significance of the opening scene?

The Scaffold located at the west end of town is
significant in itself because in literature, the west
signifies the end. Therefore, the beginning of this book
can be inferred to be the end of something involving
Hestor. Hawthorne is trying to reveal that Hestor is at
the end of her innocence because of having a child
without her husband. Also this is the first time you see
the scaffold, a recurring symbol in the book. This is
where Hestor first stands trial for her sins. During this
trial, Dimmsdale basically begs her to reveal him as her
fellow sinner; but, she refuses to give him up. She is
sentenced to wear the scarlet letter as a symbol of the
sin for the rest of her life.

What is the significance of the ending/closing scene?

Just before the actual closing scene Chillingworth dies
by the scaffold which concludes the scaffold motif
which appeared in the beginning, middle, and end of
the book. It is a symbol of confession, as he confesses
to his sins of adultery and becomes free. The closing
Pearl: she was not only her daughter but was the purest scene focuses on the deaths of Chillingworth and
character in the book, however she was a physical
Hester, who are buried beside each other sharing a
symbol of Hesters sin.
headstone with nothing but the letter A on a black
background. This symbolizes not only Hesters sin as
Red A on Dimmesdale: Dimmesdale did not
an adulterer but also Chillingworths. The graves are far
physically wear an a to represent his sin because no enough apart that the dust of the sleepers had no right
one knew that he was the one Hester committed the sin to mingle, even in death. This signifies that although
with, but he had a red mark on his chest to symbolize
they were buried together, the puritan society does not
his own adultery and sin committed.
condone what they did.

The scaffold: Dimmesdale had a hard time confessing

his sins on the platform in front of everyone and his
was a symbol of judgment from the town towards
Rose Bush: the bush was across the prison for the
prisoners to look at for a symbol of hope and more
chances to come to them.
Sun Rays on Pearl: symbolizes the pureness in Pearl
and the happiness of Hester inside of Pearl. She is her
love and life and the sunrays shining down on Pearl
showed she was the only pure one of Hester and

Evil: Characters debate the "Black Man" which is evil and is linked with Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Pearl
also represents evil because she is considered to be a devil child. They try to find the causes of evil and reveal
the Puritanical idea of sin.
Sin: Hester and Dimmesdale's situation relates to Adam and Eve's because their sin causes expulsion in both.

Nature: It is the opposite of Puritanism and Hawthorne shows this by contrasting the black flower of the prison
which punishes sin with the red rose bush which Hawthorne thinks forgive the people who are sentenced to

Individuals vs. Society: Hester Prynne and and Dimmesdale are trying to overcome the problems within
themselves for committing adultery while also trying to make peace with the Puritan society they live in.

Possible Topics/Questions for Discussion:

1- What is the significance of the brook in this story?
2- What do you notice about certain characters health as the plot unwinds?
3- What is the significance of the flowers in the story?