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					                               Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

                     Chapters Two and Three: Characterization and Hester Prynne



       Examine the following quotes from the second and third chapters of Hawthorne’s novel. Explain
what each reveals about the character so that you can obtain a clear idea of Hawthorne’s protagonist.

1. “Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young
woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an
action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air as if by her own
free will” (35).

Explanation/Information about Hester Prynne:
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2. “. . . it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an
impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or
fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but
poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty
smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours” (35).

Explanation/Information about Hester Prynne:
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3. “The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and
abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which, besides being
beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a
marked brow and deep black eyes” (35).

Explanation/Information about Hester Prynne:
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4. “She was lady-like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a
certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is now
recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique
interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison” (35-36).

Explanation/Information about Hester Prynne:
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5. “Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so
picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image
of Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters have vied with one another to represent;
something which should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, of that sacred image of sinless
motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the world. Here there was the taint of deepest sin in the most
sacred quality of human life, working such effect, that the world was only the darker for this woman’s
beauty, and the more lost for the infant that she had borne” (37-38).

Explanation/Information about Hester Prynne:
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6.       “Speak, woman!” said another voice, coldly and sternly, proceeding from the crowd about the
scaffold, “Speak; and give your child a father!”

        “I will not speak!” answered Hester, turning pale as death, but responding to this voice, which she
too surely recognized. “And my child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an earthly one!”
(45).

Explanation/Information about Hester Prynne:
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                               Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter



Chapters Three – Five

1. Who appears in the crowd as Hester stands on the scaffold? What is Hester’s reaction?

2. Where has Chillingworth been? What motion does he make at Hester?

3. Who is Dimmesdale? What appeal does he use to convince Hester to reveal the baby’s father?

4. Why does Hester fear Chillingworth?

5. Explain Chillingworth’s attitude toward Hester.

6. What does Chillingworth intend to do and say?

7. What does Chillingworth ask Hester to do and promise? Why does she agree?

8. Explain Hester’s comment to Chillingworth, “Thy acts are like mercy, but thy words interpret thee as a
terror” (51). What details does Hawthorne use to reinforce the image of Chillingworth as someone to be
feared?

9. What is implied in Chillingworth’s last line in Chapter Four, “Not thy soul. No, not thine”?

10. In Chapter Five, the narrator summarizes months of Hester’s life. Describe Hester’s home, including
any symbolism in its location. How does she earn a living?

11. Identify two reasons why Hester decides to remain in Boston instead of moving to a less-restrictive
colony.

12. How do the townspeople treat Hester, and how does she react?

13. How does Hester change over time?

14. Describe the difference between Hester’s clothing and her child’s. What might this mean?

15. Why do people allow Hester to sew for them? What does this indicate about the society?

				
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