The Scarlet Letter Study Guide
Making Meanings Chapters 1-4
1) What kind of spectacle have the townspeople of Boston gathered to witness?
2) What is the significance of the scarlet A which is embroidered on Hester’s gown?
3) What particularly seems to disturb the stranger at the edge of the crowd after he has
learned of the sentence imposed on Hester?
4) Why does Hester at first resist Chillingworth’s attempts to give the baby medicine?
5) What promise does Chillingworth exact from Hester?
6) In your opinion does the punishment that Hester Prynne has received fit her crime?
7) How do most of the townspeople regard the severity of Hester’s punishment?
8) In what way, according to the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, can Hester help her unknown
lover atone for his sin?
9) What reasons does Chillingworth give for not seeking vengeance against Hester?
Connecting with the Text
10) “there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know
the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles
What experience in your life has been, to a degree, like this—worse in retrospect than while
you were experiencing it?
Extending the Text
To what degree are moral transgressions judged in a public forum today? Are they evaluated
as harshly as in the Puritan era?
The Scarlet Letter Questions Chapters 5-8
1) What reasons does Hawthorne give for Hester’s remaining in Boston where she is an
2) What is one occasion for which Hester is never asked to make clothing?
3) What is the first object Pearl seems to be aware of as an infant?
4) When Governor Bellingham demands to know what Hester can teach Pearl concerning
the “truths of heaven and earth,” what does Hester reply?
5) How has Chillingworth’s appearance changed since Hester last saw him?
6) How does Arthur Dimmesdale come to the aid of Hester and Pearl?
7) Is Pearl’s behavior really unnatural for a child, or does Hester just imagine that it is?
8) How is the name of Hester’s child symbolic?
9) Explain how Hester’s “sympathetic knowledge of hidden sin in other hearts” affects her.
10) “But sometimes…she felt an eye—a human eye—upon the ignominious brand, that
seemed to give momentary relief, as if half of her agony was shared. The next instant, back
it all rushed again…for, in that brief interval, she had sinned anew.” In this passage, whose
“human eye” does Hester feel? What is meant by Hester “had sinned anew”?
11) Summarize the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale’s argument for allowing Hester to keep Pearl.
12) At the conclusion of this “conference” on Pearl’s welfare, what is Chillingworth’s chief
Extending the Text
A modern reader who judges harshly the inclination of Governor Bellingham and Mr.
Wilson to remove Pearl from her mother’s care may be overlooking the fact that court
systems also remove children from their parents’ custody. In what situations do you think
that removal is acceptable? Would Hester be at risk of losing Pearl today?
The Scarlet Letter Questions Chapters 9-12
1) Whose suggestion is it that Chillingworth and Dimmesdale lodge in the same house?
2) What occurs when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale tells his congregation that he is the
worst of all sinners?
3) What does Dimmesdale do in penance for his sins?
4) Where have Hester and Pearl been before they arrive at the scaffold?
5) What does the minister reply when Pearl asks him if he will stand on the scaffold with
them tomorrow in broad daylight?
6) How do the townspeople who see the red A in the sky interpret it?
7) What is your opinion of Arthur Dimmesdale at this point?
8) How does the discovery Chillingworth makes (at the end of Chapter 10) change the
relationship between the minister and him?
9) What frequent gesture of Dimmesdale’s foreshadows the presence of something
beneath his vestment?
10) Pearl appears to know intuitively that Dimmesdale is her father when she asks him
whether he will stand with her mother and her on the scaffold in daylight. What previous
indications have there been that she feels a special bond with the minister?
The Scarlet Letter Questions Chapters 13-19
a. What do many townspeople now say the A represents?
b. Why does Hester feel she is to blame for Dimmesdale’s poor condition?
c. Why does Hester pity Chillingworth?
d. What is Dimmesdale’s initial reaction when Hester reveals Chillingworth’s true
e. How does Hester transform herself during the encounter with Dimmesdale?
f. What suggestion does Hester make to Dimmesdale to relieve his misery?
g. Describe Pearl’s reaction when she sees Hester with Dimmesdale.
1. Why do you think that Pearl is so upset to find that Hester has removed the scarlet
letter from her dress?
2. What effect does putting the scarlet letter back on her dress have on Hester?
a. How do Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl plan to leave Boston?
b. Why does Dimmesdale consider it fortunate that they will not be leaving for four days?
c. What have crowds of people gathered in the market place?
d. What piece of unwelcome news is Hester made aware o fin the market place?
e. How does Dimmesdale appear as he leaves the church after his triumphant sermon?
f. According to Chillingworth, what is the one place where Dimmesdale could have
successfully escaped him?
1. What about the novel’s conclusion was satisfying? What made you feel unsatisfied?
2. No real cause of death is given for either the minister or the physician. It would appear
the driving force that gave them life no longer exists once the secret is exposed. How
does this make their deaths ironic?
3. Why, do you suppose, does Hester return to Boston?