The Scarlet Letter

Book Report Guide

The Scarlet Letter - Book Report Guide for The Scarlet Letter
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Title, Author and Publication

The Scarlet Letter is a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was first published in 1850 by Ticknor & Fields of Boston.


The Scarlet Letter is set in 17th century Boston which was then a small village populated mostly by Puritans.

Characters of The Scarlet Letter

  • Hester Prynne: the protagonist of the novel, Hester is a young married woman who has an affair with the village minister. Her infidelity is revealed with the pregnancy that results and she is forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A' as the mark of her sin.
  • Roger Chillingworth: the antagonist of the novel and Hester's husband. Chillingworth disguises himself as a doctor in order to discover Hester's partner in adultery.
  • Arthur Dimmesdale: the village minister and Hester's lover. Dimmesdale's sin is protected by Hester, but his guilty conscience causes him significant physical ailments.
  • Pearl: the illegitimate child of Hester and Dimmesdale.

Plot for The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter begins with Hester Prynne being taken from prison to be berated by the townspeople for both her adultery and for keeping her lover's name a secret. As the novel progresses, the reader realizes that Dimmesdale is Hester's lover and that Chillingworth is her husband in disguise bent on avenging his defamed honor. Hawthorne reveals the honest emotion that exists between Hester and Dimmesdale, but tempers it with the danger of their secret being revealed at the hand of Chillingworth. Dimmesdale's health deteriorates as his guilt eats away at him and eventually he reveals to the village that he is Hester's lover and Pearl's father.

Questions to Ponder: Consider the following questions as you read.

Examine the development of character through the novel.

  • Why is Hester Prynne an admirable character?
  • In what ways is Roger Chillingworth revealed as a warped or evil character?
  • What does Pearl symbolize?
  • What is the significance of Pearl not recognizing her mother without her 'A'?
  • How do the names in the book reveal aspects of the characters' natures?

Examine the conflict between society and nature.

  • How does the ethic of Puritanism conflict with human nature?
  • What symbolic examples may be found in the text for man's domination over nature?
  • What is Hawthorne trying to say about religion through the character of Arthur Dimmesdale?
  • What is the significance of the many references to light and dark?

Possible First Sentences for The Scarlet Letter

  • Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale are like a 17th century Adam and Eve.
  • The Scarlet Letter is a novel rich in symbolism.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne creates an allegory of man's domination over nature in The Scarlet Letter.
  • The wildness of human nature is often in conflict with the rules that govern society.