Ari Gilder, 3-201L
1. What is emphasized in chapter 1?
The origins of the colony are stressed in chapter 1; namely, the roots of the burial-ground and the prison and church, all of which are symbolic of the ideas represented in the book.
2. What is revealed by the attitude of the crowd towards Hester?
The crowd seems to be very scornful and contemptuous towards Hester, very cold and unsympathetic. They believe that her actions are not worthy of their compassion or forgiveness.
3. Think about the characterof Hester as shown by her actions and by the author’s description. How does Hawthorne’s description of the letter “A” relate to Hester’s character?
Hester’s actions seem to make her stand out from the rest of the crowd, she is independent and yet defiant. The scarlet letter, which is illuminated with gold thread, also stands out from Hester’s clothing, and the fact that she make the decision to embroider it so that it stands out, shows a defiance in itself; most people would not do such a thing, but Hester sticks to her own ways.
4. What preoccupations does Chillingworth seem to have in Chapt. 3? What does his speech to Hester in Chapter 4 reveal about attitudes towards himself and the situation?
In chapter 3, Chillingworth is preoccupied with discovering the exact details and circumstances of the situation in which he beholds Hester. When he speaks to Hester, he reveals that he acknowledges the fact that the sin wasn’t entirely Hester’s fault; he in part was responsible for her desire to stray from him, since he had taken her to be his wife when she wasn’t entirely in love with him.
5. What contrasts exist in the personalities of Hester and Chillingworth?
Hester is defiant, independent, passionate and self-reliant, whereas Chillingworth is an older, more subdued man, who “feeds” on others (hence the name “the Leech”) almost like a parasite; this makes his occupation of a physician, who is constantly in contact with others, no surprise.
6. How does the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale differ from the other people in the crowd? Where do we see this?
It is easy to spot that Mr. Dimmesdale is more compassionate towards Hester, more caring and forgiving, and we first see this when he hesitates quite a bit at the scaffold, where he is to [ironically] address Hester and persuade her into confessing the name of her fellow sinner.
7. In what ways does Pearl seem real? In what ways does she seem unreal? Find evidence in the text.
Pearl seems real in that she acts like any child might, naughty and mischievous. Her desire to cause trouble would be expected in a child of her age, for example, she purposely answered Mr. Wilson’s questions incorrectly, only in order to cause trouble. However, her unreality shows in her delight in other people’s sufferings, and her lack of sympathies. She acts coldly to everyone in pain, even her mother when she consistantly inquires of the scarlet letter, and in this Hester doubts whether Pearl is her child, or the devil’s.
8. What is the significance of Hester’s comment when she begs to keep her child, “I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!”?
In saying this, Hester openly acknowledges her wrongdoing and displays her great will in steering Pearl in the right direction, so that she can avoid falling in the pit into which her mother slipped. This is Hester’s strongest argument for retaining custody of Pearl, in that she displays her desire to avoid anything having to do with her sin.
9. What is the significance of “The Leech and His Patient” as a title for chapter 10? In what way does Chillingworth seem like a symbolic figure?
Chapter 10 describes the nature of the relationship between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale; it describes how people believe that Chillingworth is sent by the devil in order to cause Dimmesdale more suffering, and that Chillingworth feeds off of him like a leech, while claiming that he is only his patient. Chillingworth seems like a symbolic figure in the evil that he does; he seems to represent the messenger of or Satan himself.
10. Why does Dimmesdale stand on the scaffold? Why does he fear that “the whole town will awake and find me here” yet continues to stand? What is it that he would like to say?
Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold since he feels guilty for not having stood with Hester seven years ago. He fears that the whole town will awake and see him, their minister, standing there, and it will cause his career to come to a quick end as well as their faith in him. However, he continues to stand because that is exactly what he wants; part of him wishes to reveal his secret and disclose that he, their religious leader, has lied to them for seven years, and in that, he will free himself from his torture.
11. What is the significance of Pearl’s remarks to the Minister at the end of chapter 12?
The fact that Pearl asks the minister if he will stand with them tomorrow at noon, in front of all the public, indicates that Pearl isn’t as completely in-the-dark about the situation as it may outwardly appear. She knows that once the three of them face public shame together, it will lift a heavy burden from upon all three of them. This also is foreshadowing for the end of the book, when indeed, the three of them shall stand on the scaffold together in front of all the public.
12. Why and how has Hester changed herself and within her society? What does Hawthorne mean when he says that “the scarlet letter had not done its office”?
Hester has adapted to the way her society treats her, she voluntarily goes along with the isolationism that comes with her token of shame. She does this partly because she recognizes the fact that there is nothing she can do about it, and she accepts her fate for which she is destined. This however, in effect cancels out the purpose of the scarlet letter; it is supposed to be an eternal mark of shame, but instead in the eyes of the public, it turns into a symbol of Hester’s kindness and generosity, and it fails to accomplish its task.
13. What does Hester discover about the results of having kept the secret from Dimmesdale?
When Hester reveals the secret of Chillingworth to Dimmesdale, she is able to taste some of the torture that Dimmesdale has been put through, especially when Dimmesdale releases some of his fury towards her. However, Dimmesdale is able to quiet his qualms and forgive Hester. This makes Hester realize the degree of torture that Chillingworth has put Dimmesdale through.
14. What force does Chillingworth symbolize in his sin of using his intellect to torment and destroy another soul? Why does Hawthorne see this as so evil?
In working his way into Dimmesdale’s life, Chillingworth is able to intertwine himself with the most personal recesses of Dimmesdale’s heart and probe to his desire, and he is able to use his occupation as a physician as a mask for his actions. His occupation in effect allows him free-play of doing anything he wishes to Dimmesdale, claiming that it is only for his health. Hawthorne sees this as so evil by indicating specifically that Chillingworth’s sin is worse than Hester and Dimmesdale’s, since Hawthorne himself is a man of intellect, and he sees such actions as a disgusting manipulation of one’s talents.
15. What does the imagery of lights and darkness in nature reveal about Hawthorne’s philosophy? Why is Pearl always like a flood of sunshine?
Through the use of the light/dark imagery, Hawthorne conveys his belief of clear-cut good deeds and sins, and of heaven and hell, and that all people belong to only one of the two. Since Dimmesdale and Hester seem to always be caught in the darkness, he does indeed believe that their sin is irredeemable. However, the product of their sin, Pearl, is always like a flood of sunshine since she represents hope for the future, and purity, and the fact that Hester teaches Pearl what she has learned from her experiences. Pearl is both Hester and Dimmesdale’s salvation for their sin.
16. What is implied by Hester’s release in the forest and by Pearl’s reaction? What does the reader wish would happen to Dimmesdale and Hester? Why?
Hester’s release in the forest indicates her release of the past, of her sin which she has committed, and of the evils facing her as a result of the sin. However, Pearl is not adjusted to this, she has grown up living in the environment of a sin, but yet remaining pure herself, and she has not adjusted to the change of living without the sin, since she herself is in fact the product of it. The reader wishes that Dimmesdale and Hester will succeed in their plan of escaping to England and starting a new life, since the reader believes that the two of them have suffered more than their share for what they have done, and that it isn’t right for the public to continue to hold their own grasp on their lives and that Hester and Dimmesdale deserve the right to start a new life, from scratch.
17. Compare the three scaffold scenes. What is the significance of the characters present?
Throughout the three scaffold scenes, all four main characters are always present. In the first one, Hester stands by the pillory holding the three month old Pearl in the eyes of public shame, while Dimmesdale (reluctantly) tries to elicit the name of her fellow sinner from Hester, and Chillingworth stands in the background, gathering information about the situation. In the second scaffold scene, late at night, Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale, the three pillars of the sin, stand holding hands together, completing half of their confession and lightening their burden, while Chillingworth again stands in the background, watching this and smiling to himself, knowing that his plan for revenge is ironing itself out. In the final scaffold scene, Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale again stand together, but in front of the entire crowd this time, disclosing all which has been hidden for seven years, without reserve. At this time, Chillingworth doesn’t stand in the background, but in front of Dimmesdale, and attempts to stop him from eluding his evil plot to destroy him.
18. Think about the scarlet letter as it appears in the novel and in terms of its change as a symbol throughout the book. How do Hester’s letter, Dimmesdale’s “mark” and the “A” in the sky relate to the theme of reality and illusion?
19. What does the child Pearl symbolize in terms of the natural development of a pearl? How does the successful outcome of her life underscore a liberal side of Hawthorne’s Puritanism?
Just like a pearl starts off as a rough speck of dust, and over years and years in the mouth of a clam it transforms into a marvellous jewel, so to is the child Pearl. Pearl is born from a rough action of sin, and through years and years of labor to shelter her from committing the same mistake, she (we think) eventually becomes a lady and gets married in Europe. The successful outcome of her life underscores the fact that the same old way of Puritan life isn’t mandatory for a successful life; albeit Pearl’s was forged from sin, it still indicates an important lesson.
20. What are the major sins in the book? How does Hawthorne feel about each of these sins? Why is Dimmesdale saved at the end?
The two major sins in the book are Hester and Dimmesdale’s adultery and Chillingworth’s desire for revenge. Regarding the adultery, Hawthorne feels that such a sin can only be absolved by the person themselves – they must endure shame (be it public or private) but yet the sinners can be liberated. For this reason, due to his massive self-affliction, Dimmesdale is liberated from his sin and dies. However, Chillingworth’s revenge, and the way he goes about doing it, in acting like a leech sucking the lifeblood from his patient silently and sneakily, is unforgiveable. Chillingworth’s biggest punishment may be the fact that he lives to see Dimmesdale die and be liberated, and then die that same year.