Honors American Literature
Freudian Psychoanalysis of The Scarlet Letter
Chapter 1: The Prison Door
1. If chapter 1 is part of Hester’s “dream,” then we must consider the symbolism of the rose and the
a. Are they phallic, or yonic, or do they incorporate aspects of both? Explain.
b. Are they positive, or negative, or ambiguous?
c. What clues do we get to our Dreamer’s desires and fears through these symbols?
Chapter 2: The Market-Place
1. Describe the conflict between Hester’s id and ego demands. (What does Hester want to do versus
how she forces herself to appear on the scaffold?)
2. The “A” is akin in shape to a triangle, which is a phallic symbol. But, Hester is a mother, so why is
the symbol of her punishment a masculine one?
Chapter 3: The Recognition
1. Which characters are the superego elements in chapters 2 and 3?
Chapter 4: The Interview
1. Alchemy is actually a religion that attempts to take a shattered psyche and heal it through a rigorous
scientific process. It is not really about purifying a dross metal and turning it into gold, but about
purifying and reuniting one’s spirit, soul, and body. Does Chillingworth seek psychological
wholeness, or gold? Support your response and explain what that might foreshadow for his character
in the novel.
2. Hester’s A is embroidered with gold thread. Knowing what little you now do about alchemy, and
taking into consideration the way Hawthorne describes the A, is this a positive or a negative means of
characterizing Hester? Explain.
Chapter 5: Hester at Her Needle
1. Hester supports herself using her talent with a sewing needle. Is a needle phallic or yonic, and what
does Hester’s ability to wield it so well further suggest to us about her strength of character?
Chapter 6: Pearl
1. Based upon her dress and behavior, is Pearl an id, ego, or superego figure? Explain.
Chapters 7-8: The Governor’s Hall and The Elf-Child and the Minister
1. Symbolically, both Hester and Dimmesdale are obscured in shadow and in the fold of the curtain.
However, we have already learned that Hester cannot hide from her “sin.” So what do the shadows
symbolize for Hester? For Dimmesdale? (Hint: The symbol may be the same, but the interpretation
Chapter 9: The Leech
1. Dimmesdale is a man of staunch faith and outwardly conservative views. However, what id desire
does Dimmesdale briefly indulge in his relationship with Chillingworth?
2. According to Freud's theory of dream symbolism, what might Dimmesdale be attempting by closing
himself off in his darkened study?
3. Text analysis, 127-128: "A man burdened with a secret...bringing all its mysteries into the daylight."
How would Freud characterize this situation?
Chapter 10: The Leech and His Patient
1. How is Chillingworth (unintentionally) referencing Freud when he claims that Dimmesdale "hath
inherited a strong animal nature from his father or his mother" (133-134, my copy)?
2. Read the following conversation between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, and describe how
Hawthorne is actually referencing repression.
"There goes a woman," resumed Roger Chillingworth, after a pause, "who,
be her demerits what they may, hath none of that mystery of hidden
sinfulness which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is Hester Prynne the
less miserable, think you, for that scarlet letter on her breast?"
"I do verily believe it," answered the clergyman. "Nevertheless, I
cannot answer for her. There was a look of pain in her face which I
would gladly have been spared the sight of. But still, methinks, it
must needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his pain, as
this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it up in his heart."
3. Divide into 4 groups and follow the symbolism associated with Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth,
and Pearl. What is Hawthorne suggesting to his readers about each character and what is happening
to him/her? Then, select one symbol that you think is powerfully associated with your character, and
decide whether the symbol is phallic or yonic, positive or negative, and what, in conjunction, this
might say about that character’s psychological state.
Chapter 11: The Interior of a Heart
1. What might a Freudian analyst say about the fact that Dimmesdale whips himself with a scourge?
(Hints: Is a scourge phallic or yonic? Is punishment traditionally the domain of the Father or the
2. A "looking glass" (150, mc) is a psychoanalytic symbol of a view into the soul. What does
Dimmesdale view in his soul?
3. In which psychosexual stage is Dimmesdale fixated? Explain. But before responding, consider the
a) Who has become Dimmesdale's ersatz Father-figure in the novel?
b) What is this Father attempting to do to his "son"?
4. Hawthorne describes Hester as "the image of Divine Maternity" (56, mc). What is Chillingworth's
relationship to Hester? Dimmesdale's?
Chapter 12: The Minister’s Vigil
a) What might Dimmesdale’s dropped glove represent, psychoanalytically speaking?
Chapter 14: Hester and the Physician
1. Although Hawthorne regards Chillingworth as pure evil, Freud would see him more as an element of
the psyche. Which element or drive might he be? What might make him seem “evil”?
2. Chapters 1-14: Students complete Activity One (separate handout) for Chillingworth and Dimmesdale
Chapter 15: Hester and Pearl
1. How is Pearl an id figure? Explain. Find specific descriptions from this chapter to support your
Chapter 16: A Forest Walk
1. Explain the symbolism of the forest and the path, according to Freud (192).
2. Also, what would a Freudian psychoanalyst interpret "the Black Man" to be, in terms of the psyche?
Chapters 17-19: The Pastor and His Parishioner, A Flood of Sunshine, and The Child at the Brook-
1. How is the meeting of Hester and Dimmesdale described as dreamlike?
2. How do Hester and Dimmesdale argue the tension between the reality principle and the pleasure
principle? Which wins out in these chapters? Be specific.
Chapter 20: The Minister in a Maze
1. Why might Dimmesdale be acting in such an inappropriate and “out-of-character” manner in this
After Chapter 24
1. Does Dimmesdale still have unresolved desires (id) by the end of the novel? Why or why not?
2. Does Hester still have unresolved desires (id) by the end of the novel? Why or why not?
3. Who represents the superego for Dimmesdale, and how are its demands too stringent?
4. Does Dimmesdale ever regress?
5. What, if any, evidence exists that the novel incorporates an Oedipus complex?
6. By the end of the novel, has Dimmesdale achieved abreaction? Has he reached the genital stage?
How do you know?
7. By the end of the novel, has Hester achieved abreaction? Has she reached the genital stage? How do