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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

PASIG CITY SCIENCE HIGH SCHOOL


Rainforest Park, Maybunga, Pasig City 1600
Telefax No. 628- 2177

A written report on

THE SCARLET LETTER


( a book report )

Submitted to the English Department as a partial


Requirement for the Fourth Quarter

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

Table of Contents

I. Introduction...................................................................................................... 3

II. Synopsis............................................................................................................. 3

III. Author's background...................................................................................... 3

IV. Overview
a. Literary and Historical background........................................................................... 4
b. Influence of the Author..............................................................................................4

V. Analysis
a. Discussion of the elements of the short story
 Setting..................................................................................................................... 4
 Character................................................................................................................. 5
 Plot.......................................................................................................................... 6
 Themes....................................................................................................................7
 Language................................................................................................................ 7
 Tone........................................................................................................................ 7
 Mood....................................................................................................................... 7
b. Literary concepts
 Genre.......................................................................................................................7
 Point of View.......................................................................................................... 8
 Symbol.................................................................................................................... 8
 Irony........................................................................................................................9
c. Puritan Concepts......................................................................................................9

VI. Relevance....................................................................................................................10

VII. Bibliography.............................................................................................................. 10

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

I. Introduction

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a powerful novel invoked with


symbolism. Centered on Hester Prynne, a woman branded with a scarlet “A” as a mark
for committing adultery. The “A” on her chest symbolizes the “walking emblem of
shame.” In this book report, you will see the effects of the Puritan belief and so is the
influence of the author’s experience on the outcome of the story.

II. Synopsis

The story occurred in seventeenth-century Boston, it was then a Puritan settlement in the
English country. Hester Prynne, a young and beautiful woman, is led from the town
prison with her infant daughter, Pearl; she was sentenced to wear a scarlet “A” on her
chest for committing adultery and refusing to name the child’s father. She was verbally
abused by the people for they believed that her sin shamed not only herself, but everyone
else as well. Her husband who's been presumed be lost at sea shows up and promises to
punish the man who did it; he took a new name, Roger Chillingworth, to help him achieve
his plan. Pearl, the baby, becomes unruly as she grows up and rumors fly that she's going
to be taken away from Hester; Hester goes to speak to Governor Chillingworth and he
says that she can stay with Hester; Minister Dimmesdale ends up being the father of the
child; Hester and he planned to get on a ship to Europe to escape Chillingworth's revenge,
but then Dimmesdale loses heart in the plan and knows he's dying; as he's giving a
sermon at the end he sees Hester and Pearl and climbs upon scaffold and confesses his
sin-dies in Hester's arms; Chillingworth dies soon after and leaves Pearl a lot of money so
she and her mother can go to Europe and make a wealthy marriage; years later, Hester
returns to Boston, resumes wearing the Scarlet letter, and becomes a person to whom
other woman turn to for solace; she dies and was buried by Dimmesdale her tombstone
stating, "On a field, sable, the letter A gules.” Making the “A” which initially stands for
adultery, stand for “A” as in able and later, as angel.

III. Author's background

Nathaniel Hawthorne, (1804 - 1864), short-story writer and novelist, was one of the
foremost nineteenth century writers in America. He was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem
Massachusetts as Nathaniel Hathorne. He likely later added a "w" to avoid the association
with one of his ancestors, Judge Hathorne. Raised by a widowed mother, Hawthorne tried
his hand at writing, producing historical sketches and an anonymous novel.

After marrying fellow transcendentalist Sophia Peabody in 1842, Hawthorne left Brook
Farm and moved into the Old Manse America was trying to establish a cultural
independence to complement its political independence, and Hawthorne's collection of
stories displayed both a stylistic freshness and an interest in American subject matter.
Herman Melville, among others, hailed Hawthorne as the “American Shakespeare.”

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

IV. Overview
a. Literary and Historical background

The Scarlet Letter is set in seventeenth century New England, and Hawthorne
successfully depicts the Puritanism that was found there. Puritanism actually began in
England and was aimed at purging the Church of its ostentation and corruption.

In America, Puritanism was spread by the early English settlers. Settling down in New
England, they gradually formed colonies and began implementing puritanical rules. The
extreme narrow- mindedness, even restricting church membership, led to some reform
movements, one of them led by Anne Hutchinson, who was mentioned in the novel.

Hawthorne attempts to give a genuine picture of the times by presenting a realistic


setting and real puritanical philosophies. He also includes actual historical figures like
Governor Bellingham, Governor Winthrop, Mr. John Wilson, and Mistress Hibbins,
who are treated as fictional characters. The introduction of these historical figures,
along with the presentation of Puritanical society and beliefs, and the reference to
witches, witchcraft and superstitious beliefs, lends authenticity to the narrative without
making The Scarlet Letter a historical novel.

b. Influence of the Author

Hawthorne's rejection of his ancestors influenced the story. John Hathorne, his great-
great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the Salem witch trials. Hawthorne did
not forgive their acts and actually spent a great deal of his life rejecting the Puritans in
general. In fact, there were a couple of scenes in the story where the narrow-mindedness
of the Puritans is stressed. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is
being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a larger punishment than
she actually receives. Instead of only being made to stand on the scaffold and wear the
scarlet letter on her chest, they suggest that she have it branded on her forehead or even
be put to death. Perhaps the most important influence on the story is the author's interest
in the dark side, making his work dark and gloomy in nature.

Unlike the transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne confronted reality, rather than
evading it. Likewise, The Scarlet Letter dealt with adultery, a subject that caused much
scandal during the said time frame.

The majority of Hawthorne's work takes America's Puritan past as its subject, but The
Scarlet Letter uses the material to greatest effect In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses
the repressive, authoritarian Puritan society as an analogue for humankind in general,
portraying the human soul under extreme -pressures.

V. Analysis
a. Discussion of the elements of the short story
 Setting
The Scarlet Letter is set in the seventeenth century, puritanical, New England
colony of Massachusetts. The complete action is set in the town of Boston with
the scenes shifting within it. The crucial scaffold scenes are set in the market

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place, while the decisive meeting of Hester and Dimmesdale is set in the forest.
The novel, however, opens with a prison setting, foreshadowing (the later events are
Prepared for) the future seclusion, gloominess and condemnation of the protagonists.

 Characters
Major Characters
 Hester Prynne
Hester is a young and beautiful woman, and is the wearer of the scarlet letter
“A” on her chest, her punishment for committing adultery. She gave birth to
Pearl, and refuses to name her co-adulterer. She endured years of scorn and
shame, proving her strong will and passion.

 Arthur Dimmesdale
Dimmesdale is the pastor in Hester’s church described as young, handsome.
He is the co-sinner of Hester committing adultery though he cannot confess
it publicly. He deals with his guilt by tormenting himself physically and
psychologically, developing a heart condition as a result. His commitments
to his congregation are in constant conflict with his feelings of sinfulness
and need to confess.

 Pearl
She was the child of Hester and Dimmesdale. Her contrasting attributes that
makes unique and having the townspeople speculate that her father was the
Devil. She is also described as a child whose intelligence is quite superior
for her age. She perceives things that others do not, discerning the
relationship between her mother and Dimmesdale.

 Roger Chillingworth
Chillingworth was the legitimate husband of Hester in disguise. He fails to
join her quickly, for he is captured by Indians, and by the time he set foot on
Boston, he saw Hester on the scaffolds accused of adultery. He longed for
revenge from this point on, making him the personification of evil n the
novel.

Minor Characters
 Governor Bellingham
Bellingham is the wealthy, elderly of the colony. He is based on an actual
person who served as the governor in Boston for several terms. He is further
described blind of the things around him, failing to recognize that his sister
is a witch.

 Mistress Hibbins
She is the ill-tempered sister of Governor Bellingham, based upon another
actual figure from history, who was executed for witchcraft. Her
appearances at public occasions depict the hypocrisy and hidden evil in
Puritan society.

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

 John Wilson
Wilson is the eldest clergyman in Boston. He is also based on an actual
person, an English minister who came to Boston in 1630. He convinces
Dimmesdale to appeal to Hester to reveal her lover's identity. Later, he
delivers a sermon on the sin of adultery. Like Governor Bellingham, Wilson
follows the community's rules strictly but can be swayed by Dimmesdale's
eloquence. He represents the puritanical attitude that advocates harsh
punishment of sinners.

 The Sexton
A worker in the church who he found Dimmesdale's glove on the scaffold,
he returns it to the minister and blames the devil for having dropped it there.
He refers to the appearance of the scarlet letter in the sky and takes it to
represent Angel.

 The Captain
He is the commander of the ship that is to take Hester, Dimmesdale, and
Pearl away. He plays an important role in escalating the tension of the plot
by informing Hester on Election Day that Chillingworth has also booked
passage on his ship bound for Bristol.

 Narrator
The narrator was an anonymous customhouse surveyor telling of the past
events. The narrator injects his own opinions and feelings into the story and
he is sympathetic to Dimmesdale and Hester in his thoughts.

 Plot
 Conflict: Hester Prynne, in America without her husband bears a child by Rev.
Authur Dimmesdale. She wears the public shame of adultery in the form of a
letter "A", while Dimmesdale bears a private shame in that he caused it and no
one knows. Her husband, Roger Chillingsworth arrives to find her public
condemnation, and later longs for revenge.

 Rising Action: While Hester continues to live under the sin of adultery,
Dimmesdale stands by in silence though his conscience plagues him and affects
his health. Hester's husband, Chillingworth, hides his true identity reaping
revenge.

 Climax: The second scaffold scene, when Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold
with Hester and Pearl, finally divulging his secret, but still in the darkness of
night. Ironically, while standing there, Dimmesdale notices a large meteor in the
sky that appears in the shape of the letter A. Chillingworth sees it as well, for he
has been watching the three of them on the scaffold. Dimmesdale's sin is a
secret no more; Chillingworth will have his revenge.
 Falling action: The final reports on Hester's and Pearl's lives were set after the
deaths of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

 Outcome: The secret of Hester and Dimmesdale becomes public knowledge


when the minister reveals his adultery and openly accepts Hester and Pearl, who
have long suffered in silence.

 Themes

The Nature of Evil


In the novel, people constantly blame the “evil” committed by Hester, scorning her for
the shame she had brought unknowingly that they themselves are spouting “evil” from
their very mouths. The characters also try to root out the causes of evil: did
Chillingworth's selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the “evil” she committed in
Dimmesdale's arms? Is Hester and Dimmesdale's deed responsible for Chillingworth's
transformation into a malevolent being? This confusion over the nature and causes of
evil reveals the problems with the Puritan conception of sin.

Revenge
Evidently, the concept of avenging one’s self -- or pride as to Chillingworth’s case was
shown in the novel. Revenge for the contentment or achievement of one’s happiness
will come from the fall of another; which is ever so evident on what Chillingworth plan,
and his deeds to Dimmesdale.

Isolation from Society


The Scarlet Letter tells the story of a society that is as good at excluding people as a
middle school clique. Hester Prynne, lived in isolation for years and years, cast out of
Puritan society for having a child out of wedlock. Her isolation leads her to see her
society in a new light and allows her to think outside of the box.

 Language
The Language used was deep Old English (Classic English), with deep meanings
that touch the realm of the Church and the pious Puritan beliefs in a somber and
ominous approach.

 Tone
The tone was contemplative and somewhat bitter at first; thoughtful, fairly
straightforward, yet occasionally tinged with irony in the body of the narrative with
a faked unbiased point of view by the narrator.

 Mood
The mood of the story is undeniably gloomy and dark, and of tragedy; obviously
contemplating to the sins committed by Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth and the
rest of the people around them.

b. Literary concepts
 Genre
The Scarlet Letter has a Gothic-Romance feel for both its dark and deep sinister
story with a fruit of a passionate union, Pearl.

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 Point of View
The point of view is obviously a third-person omniscient, with respect to the
narrator.

 Symbolism
 The Scarlet Letter "A"
The chief symbol in the novel is the scarlet letter "A", which plainly symbolizes
Hester's adultery. For Dimmesdale and Hester, the scarlet letter stands for
agony, which Hester displays in her isolated life and which Dimmesdale
displays in his deteriorating health. By the end of the novel, the townspeople
think that Hester's scarlet "A" stands for Ability, for she has become a generous
helper for the poor and downtrodden and a wise counselor for their problems.

This gesture of Dimmesdale's placing his hand over his heart is also symbolic. It
is the minister's attempt to cover his mark of sinfulness and prevent his
exposure.

 The Scaffold
The scaffold is a symbol of repentance and God's platform on the Day of
Judgment. It is a reflection of appearing before the Almighty in one's weakness.
Dimmesdale has great difficulty in standing on the platform and confessing his
sins. He first does it under the cover of darkness for no one to see him, as if he
were trying to hide from God himself. In the end, however, he bravely stands on
the scaffold and confesses his sin in the light of day and before a crowd of
people. The confession finally gives him a sense of peace.

 The Prison
The prison is a symbol of isolation and alienation, foreshadowing the life that
Hester will lead even after she leaves its confines. While Hester lives in the
prison of alienation, Dimmesdale lives in the prison of his guilt, and
Chillingworth is imprisoned by his vengeance. Pearl, alone remains free.

 The Rose Bush


The rose bush growing across from the prison represents a constant reminder of
salvation and hope to all the prisoners. Later in the book Pearl states that she
was plucked from the rosebush and was born. This symbolizes that Pearl is the
key to not only Hester's salvation, but to Dimmesdale and indirectly to
Chillingsworth. Pearl was born into a world of sin and for her to be saved,
everyone must find their salvation through her. It represents a light in the
darkness of Hester's sin.

 The Forest
The forest is symbolic of Nature, both in its darker and lighter aspects. When the
rays of sunshine fall on Pearl but do not reach Hester, they symbolize her
inability to find happiness or warmth. The pervading darkness is suggestive of
the dull gloom in her life. That darkness is dispelled when she meets with
Dimmesdale and plans to flee from Boston with him. As a symbol of her

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

freedom, she throws away the scarlet letter and undoes her hair. Appropriately, a
flood of sunshine illuminates the forest, dispelling the darkness.

 Colors
Hawthorne also gives symbolic meanings to the colors that he employs in the
novel. The dark, sober, sable garments that Hester wears represent her dull and
gloomy life filled with grief, guilt, and sorrow.

In contrast, she dresses Pearl in bright colors, especially crimson, in defiance of


the scarlet letter and as a symbol of the child's free spirit. The letter is red
because that is the color associated with the devil, and the Puritans believed that
Hester's sin was a mark of Satan.

Ironically, the innocent Pearl fashions a letter "A" to wear herself, made it out of
bright green seaweed, the color of life itself. Black is also used in the novel.
Mistress Hibbins practices black magic throughout the book, and many suspect
Chillingworth of doing the same.

 Irony
The irony of the novel lies in the fact that the most respected member of this Puritanical
society, the Reverend Dimmesdale, is Hester's partner in sin.

c. Puritanism Concepts

Sin
An obvious concept in which Hester’s condemnation rooted, though the root of all these
were questioned heavily. Evident as it can be, the Puritan community questioned the
publication of the novel since it tackles “adultery”, a heavy topic touching the laws set
forth by the Church.

Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is seen not only as a sin in The Scarlet Letter, but as a sin that leads to great
personal injury. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a religious figure, comes to embody
hypocrisy, resulting in so much guilt that he becomes ill. His guilty conscience
produces the mysterious appearance of the scarlet letter on his skin over his heart and
ultimately causes his death.

Superiority
The Puritan community believed that they were superior to those who are sinful. A
good example was the whole of the novel, while Hester struggle from the insufferable
tongues of distaste, those people believed that she is lowly and unworthy. And the fact
that they never thought of the Reverend and the governors committing a sin is
substantiation.

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© CN Raynon The Scarlet Letter - a book report 2011 - 2012

VI. Relevance

The practices and beliefs of the Puritan Era influence people today even f the name
“Puritan” is not renounced. Perhaps, we are just unaware, naive and blinded by what
we believe is right, but is morally wrong.

Similar to the attitude shown by the people towards Hester’s sin, we tend to judge people
for a sin they have committed, eliminating the possibility that we are wronged, or that
we don’t or won’t do the same.

Our Society, even today is unfair, Racism, Discrimination are far off better to do that,
but we still do. The people before us, and those people who lived before them have
learned what is right and wrong, nonetheless, we continue to be sinful in our own ways.
Hence, the legacy of Hester’s deeds doesn’t stop and stand only for the Puritans, but also
to us.

VII. Bibliography

 The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Penguin Putnam Inc. NY, NY, 1999. The
Americans, Danzer, Gerald A. McDougal Littell Company. Dallas, Texas, 1999.

 Nathaniel Hawthorne : Collected Novels: Fanshawe, The Scarlet Letter, The House of
the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, The Marble Faun (Library of America),
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Millicent Bell (Editor), Library of America, 1983.

 Spark Notes The Scarlet Letter, SparkNotes Editors, Nathaniel Hawthorne,


SparkNotes, 2002.

 Baym, Nina. The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career. New York: Cornell University Press,
1976, p.283. Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York:
Stein and Day Publishers, 1966, pp. 217-58. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet
Letter. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1962. Martin, Terence.
Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1965.

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