The Scarlet Letter Discussion Guide:
A Few Conversation Starters.
Use this discussion guide to inspire in-depth thinking, and jump-start a conversation about The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. There’s plenty here to set your mental wheels in motion.
- Needless to say, the defining feature of Hawthorne’s book is its highly-charged central symbol, the scarlet letter itself. How does the letter function in the work, and does its meaning evolve over time?
- Hawthorne is said to have added a W to his name to distance himself from his Puritan ancestors, especially his great-great-grandfather who was the chief interrogator during the Salem Witch Trials. Do you see this mindset reflected in The Scarlet Letter? How does Hawthorne depict the Puritan society of Boston, Massachusetts during the 1600’s?
- The Scarlet Letter clearly examines the stern Puritan society associated with America’s origins. But, how does it reflect what was going on in America at the time Hawthorne wrote his famous book?
- Hester Prynne is often regarded as the first significant modern heroine of American literature. How does Hester’s character evolve throughout the work? And how does her development alter the way Puritan Boston looks at her?
- The Scarlet Letter is often referred to as a novel. It is, in fact, a romance (which is not to say a romance novel). What is the difference between these two types of long fiction? And how does the Romantic form shape the characters of Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and Hester Prynne?
- You can’t discuss The Scarlet Letter without talking about Pearl. She’s a complicated character. Hawthorne explicitly links her to the scarlet letter, in that Pearl is also a “token of [Hester’s] shame.” And like the scarlet letter, Pearl is highly symbolic. Besides being the literal embodiment of Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin, what does Pearl signify? And, does her symbol evolve over the course of the book?
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The Scarlet Letter: A for Adultery, Antinomian or America Itself?
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