Scarlet Letter Discussion Questions – Chapters 11-13
11th Grade English –
1) Why is Chillingworth so obsessed with Dimmesdale and determined to inflict ―a more intimate
revenge that any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy‖ (Hawthorn, p.122)?
2) How is it possible that with the revelation that had been granted him, Chillingworth was able to know
Dimmesdale by ―not merely the external presence, but the very inmost soul……seemed to be brought
before his eyes so that he could see and comprehend every movement‖ (Hawthorn, p.122). How does
this compare with Hester’s conviction that she too has the power to detect sin that lies buried deep in
the soul of others?
3) Why should Dimmesdale continue to associate with Chillingworth if ―his gestures, his gait, his
grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, the very fashion of his garments, were odious in
the clergyman’s heart‖ (Hawthorn, p.123)? For that matter, why does Dimmesdale choose to stay
around at all when, like Hester, he could so easily have disappeared into the vast wilderness?
4) Comment on the symbiotic relationship that exits between Dimmesdale’s success and his sin. How
does one affect the other? Why is that for Dimmesdale, his sin may be seen as both a curse and as a
5) Read the second full paragraph on page 125. Is it a fair for Dimmesdale to characterize himself so
mercilessly saying ―I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie‖
6) Why is it that Dimmesdale cannot bring himself to confess his sin? Is he, as the narrator suggests, ―a
subtle but remorseful hypocrite‖ (Hawthorn, p.126). What, in your opinion, should Dimmesdale do to
7) Comment on the following statement made by the narrator: ―To the untrue man, the whole universe is
false—it is impalpable,---it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows
himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist‖ (Hawthorn, p.127).
8) At the close of chapter 11, Dimmesdale is struck by a new thought and that ―there might be a
moment’s peace in it‖ (Hawthorn, p.128). In your opinion is Dimmesdale more interested in peace or
9) Speaking of Dimmesdale on the scaffolding, the narrator asks, ―Why, then, had he come hither? Was it
a mockery of penitence?‖ (Hawthorn, p.129) Why indeed? What motivates Dimmesdale here?
10) The reader is told that old Mistress Hibbins is a witch and that there are many ―fiends and nighthags
with whom she was well known to make excursions into the forest‖ (Hawthorn, p.131). Why does no
one seem to care about this? Isn’t this a more serious violation of Puritan law? Why does it continue to
go on unpunished?
11) Comment on the effect Pearl has on Dimmesdale as they hold hands on the scaffold (pg.134). How
does this make the reader feel about Dimmesdale, particularly in light of his statement ―I shall, indeed,
stand with thy mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow!‖ (Hawthorne, p.134).
12) How is one to interpret the appearance of the meteor? Is it a symbol intended to represent
condemnation or approbation?
13) What is the appeal value, not just to Puritans but to many people in many times, ―that the destiny of
nations should be revealed, in these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven‖ (Hawthorn, p.136)?
14) Reviewing the scaffold / Chillingworth incident, Hester reflects that Dimmesdale ―had a right to her
utmost aid‖ and that she had a responsibility to him ―which she owed to no other, nor to the whole
world besides‖ (Hawthorn, p.138). Comment on this in light of your own perceptions / assessments of
Dimmesdale and Hester.
15) Do you agree with the narrator when he says ―it is to the credit of human nature, that, except when
selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates‖ (Hawthorne, p.140).
16) In Chapter 13, the author spends a considerable amount of time describing the many examples of
Hester’s noble and even saintly behavior. Has Hester, by virtue of seven long years of penance,
achieved redemption? If not, why not?
17) According to the narrator ―she was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world’s
heavy hand had so ordained her‖ (Hawthorn, p.141). Comment on the attributes, both positive and
negative, of the world’s heavy hand.
18) Comment on the transformation of Hester in the context of ―public opinion‖. How and why has the
public’s perception of Hester changed? What does this say about ―the public‖ collectively and about
19) Speaking of Hester, the narrator suggests that ―some attribute had departed from her permanence of
which had been essential to keep her a woman‖ (Hawthorn, p.143). What attribute / attributes might
those be in your own estimation?
20) What is the narrator referring to when he states ―it was an age in which the human intellect, newly
emancipated, had taken a more active and a wider range than for many centuries before‖ (Hawthorn,
p.143)? Comment further on the following assertion that ―Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit….but
which our forefathers, had they known of it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that
stigmatized by the scarlet letter‖ (Hawthorn, p.143).
21) In an attempt to justify her refusing to reveal Dimmesdale, the reader is told ―her only justification lay
in the fact, that she had been able to discern no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than had
overwhelmed herself‖ (Hawthorn, p.145). Is this valid especially in light of where both figures are and
what both figures have become?