The Scarlet Letter Study Guide Answers

Part 1

Chapters 1-8.


Hester Prynnecourageous, firm, sinful, shamed, lonely; was found to be adulterous; does not reveal that Dimmesdale was her partner

Roger Chillingworthintelligent, vengeful, perceptive, curious, inconsiderate; Hester’s husband

Arthur Dimmesdaleembarrassed, hiding, hypocritical, nervous,  anxious; guilty of adultery with Hester

Pearl –  rebellious, beautifuldisrespectful, spoiled; Hester’s daughter

Read this quote from Chapter 2:  “In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful.”  How do you see this in The Scarlet Letter?  How does this apply to the punishment of Hester Prynne?  What was her punishment and what was the goal of the punishment?

  • She must stand on a platform in front of all the townspeople and hold her baby daughter.  She has a scarlet letter “A” stitched on her dress, so everyone knows the sin that she has committed.  The Puritan leaders hope to inject enough guilt into Hester to make her repentant for the wrong she has done.  They also hope to make her an example in front of the townspeople, that they should not follow in her footsteps.

Hawthorne describes the letter Hester made to wear on her dress in great detail.  What is unusual about how she has made the letter?  What do you find significant about how she made the scarlet letter?  What statement does this make about her thoughts on the punishment?

  • It seems like it is alive at times.  Hester feels like it is burning into her chest at times.  Perhaps Hawthorne is suggesting that when we publically sin, we have a mark forever emblazoned on ourselves.  It may be invisible, but there’s always something there to remind us and others about our sin.

Summarize the events so far:

  • Hester is publicly punished in front of the townspeople.  She sees her husband in the crowd, who later comes to visit her in prison. Hester refuses to reveal the name of the Pearl’s father. 
  • Hester and Pearl live a decently normal life in their cabin in the woods.  They are mocked and stared at when they go into town, which makes Pearl very angry.  Hester spoils Pearl because she is afraid of her strange ways.
  • The Puritan leaders want to take Pearl away from Hester because they beleive that Hester has not been a good mother.  Dimmesdale convinces them otherwise.


Quote from source

Part 2

Chapters 9-15.

Notes about the main characters of the story:

  • Chapter 9
    Roger Chillingworth becomes the friend and personal physician of Arthur Dimmesdale, whose health continues to decline. Dimmesdale suspects no evil from Chillingworth, whose aspect turns scholarly to scheming.
  • Chapter 10
    Dimmesdale begins to suspect ulterior motives in Chillingworth. Chillingworth suspects Dimmesdale is the father of Hester’s baby, and the two get into an argument when Chillingworth presses Dimmesdale to share his secret.
  • Chapter 11
    Dimmesdale wrestles with the guilt gnawing at his soul, although he continues to preach and his reputation is blameless.
  • Chapter 12
    Late one night, Dimmesdale goes to the scaffold where Hester experienced public reproach.  He now stands to personally identify himself with Hester.  Hester and Pearl, after visiting the Governor on his deathbed, approach Dimmesdale, and he invites them to come stand with him.  As the 3 symbolically stand together, a great red letter “A” appears in the sky as Chillingworth watches the scene.
  • Chapter 13
    Hester wrestles with the guilt gnawing at her soul. Her reputation as an adulteress is slowly declining.  Hester resolves to speak to her former husband about Dimmesdale.
  • Chapter 14
    Hester and Roger meet by the seashore and discuss Dimmesdale.  Hester is angry at Roger for torturing him, and Roger is angry at Hester for betraying him, saying he wants to get revenge on Dimmesdale.
  • Chapter 15
    Pearl asks what the scarlet letter means and why Dimmesdale always keeps his hand over his heart.

Discuss how Roger Chillingworth changes.  What are Hester’s thoughts regarding these changes?  What happens between Hester and Roger?

  • He used to be a quiet, studious, intellectual man, but now he is revengeful and full of hatred.  Hester comes to the conclusion that she hates him and that he has betrayed her in the same ways she has betrayed him.
  • She feels a sense of responsibility to protect Dimmesdale from Chillingworth’s injected torture.  She hopes to get Chillingworth to leave Dimmesdale alone, because he’s really hurting him instead of helping him.

What do you notice about Dimmesdale and his feelings about his role in the community?  What is causing him to feel this way?  What would have been different if Hester had named him as Pearl’s father?

  • He feels that he can preach more powerfully, because he knows the depths of guilt in his own soul.  He doesn’t thrive because he has hidden sin, a secret guilt that keeps him from living and abundant, happy life.
  • I think it would be a different sort of guilt.  Instead of private torture, it would be public humiliation, like Hester.  He would not be able to preach anymore, had his sin been revealed, and that does bring some consolation to him.  I think Dimmesdale would be overall happier if he married Hester and they started a new life somewhere else. He would still carry the guilt of his sin, but he would be able to bear it more if he confessed publicly and then moved away, out of public scrutiny.

What moments and events from these chapters impacted you the most?  Why?


Part 3

Read Chapters 16-24.  You can read chapter summaries and vocabulary.

Take notes about major events that lead up to the climax and the resolution to the story.

  • Chapter 16
    Pearl is becoming increasingly interested in Hester’s scarlet A and talks about it, making Hester uncomfortable.
  • Chapter 17
    Hester meets Dimmesdale in the woods and reveals to him that Roger was her husband and that he is out for revenge. She begs forgiveness from Dimmesdale for not telling him and he forgives her. She suggests that Dimmesdale leave the village and sail back to Europe to get away from Roger and that she and Pearl would go with him.
  • Chapter 18
    Hester and Dimmesdale talk in the woods. She wants him to meet Pearl. She throws her scarlet letter into a stream and lets her hair down, feeling freedom and love for the first time in many years.
  • Chapter 19
    Pearl refuses to join her mother until she pins the scarlet letter back on. Pearl reluctantly meets Dimmesdale but keeps him at arms length. He tries to kiss her forehead, but she washes it off in the stream.
  • Chapter 20
    Dimmesdale thinks about the trip he will soon make with Hester and returns to town full of energy and hope. He meets people in town and struggles not to reveal what he has newly learned.
  • Chapter 21
    Hester and Pearl visit town during a holiday. The captain of the ship that Hester and Dimmesdale plan to take to England tells Hester that Roger will be joining them on their voyage.
  • Chapter 22
    Dimmesdale delivers an impassioned sermon at the church during the festival. Hester listens while standing beneath the scaffold.
  • Chapter 23
    Leaving the church after his sermon, Dimmesdale declares to Hester that he is dying, mounts the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, confesses, and dies in Hester’s arms.
  • Chapter 24
    The townspeople say that they saw a scarlet letter imprinted in Dimmesdale’s flesh when he tore his shirt jut before his death. Much gossip ensues about how he suffered while he hid his sin. Others deny that he had anything to do with Hester’s sin and insist that he died holy and pure. Without revenge to drive him, Roger looses his drive and passion. When he dies later that year, he leaves everything he had to Pearl. Pearl inherits much wealth. Hester and Pearl disappear, no one knows where. Many years later, Hester returns to her home in New England, still wearing her scarlet letter. She becomes a comforter and counselor for women in the village. Many, many years later, she dies and is laid to rest next to Dimmesdale. Their single grave stone is marked with a scarlet letter A.

Write a brief synopsis of how the story ends for each of the main characters.

  • Dimmesdale confesses to the town and dies.
  • Hester disappears with Pearl but returns alone later and lives the rest of her life in the same town.
  • Without a reason to live (revenge), Roger dies shortly after Dimmesdale.

What happens to Hester Prynne?  Why does she speak to Dimmesdale?  What comes out of that meeting?

  • Hester is shocked by Dimmesdale’s deterioration. She feels responsible for it and wants to free him from the physical torment he has experienced from hiding his sin and being tortured by Roger. She tells him about Roger and convinces him to flee to England with her and Pearl.

How does Pearl play a role in Dimmesdale’s decision to confess?  Who tries to prevent Dimmesdale from mounting the scaffold and why?

  • Dimmesdale wants to lift the secret burden of Pearl’s parentage so that she can be free from it as she grows up. Roger tries to stop him.

What happens to Chillingworth?

  • Roger dies later that year and leaves everything to Pearl.

Think back on the purpose for Hester’s punishment.  Considering how Hester’s life ended, discuss whether you think the scarlet letter was effective in isolating her from society as the magistrates intended.

  • At the end of her life, “the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too.” She spends her later years comforting and counseling the women in her village.

Adapted from source