The Scarlet Letter Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Study Guide

Chapter 12:  “The Minister’s Vigil”


  1. What is a vigil?


  1. Where does Dimmesdale hold his vigil?


  1. Why are Hester and Pearl out at midnight ?


  1. What promise does Dimmesdale refuse to make to Pearl ?


  1. What is miraculous about the meteor?


  1. Quote a line that shows Chillingworth as a symbol of evil.


Chapter 13: “Another View of Hester”


  1. How old is Pearl in this chapter?


  1. How has the townspeople’s view changed toward Hester?


  1. How has Hester’s appearance changed?


  1. What does Hester resolve to do?


Chapter 14: “Hester and the Physician”


  1. How has Roger Chillingworth changed in the past  7 years?


  1. Quote at least one line that directly associates Chillingworth with the devil. Cite the page number.


  1. What does Hester want Chillingworth to do?


  1. What revelation is she going to make to Reverend Dimmesdale.


  1. What effect has Chillingworth had on Dimmesdale?  Quote a line to support your answer.



Chapter 15:  “Hester and Pearl ”


  1. Read Hester’s description of Chillingworth carefully.  How does she feel about him?


  1. What questions does Pearl ask her mother?  Why does this trouble Hester?



Chapter 16: “A Forest Walk”


  1. Where does Hester plan to meet Dimmesdale?  Why?


  1. Describe the scene with Hester and Pearl in the sunlight.  What symbolic meaning could the sunlight have?  Why does sunlight shine on Pearl and not on Hester?



  1. What story has Pearl heard about the “black man”?


  1. What does Hester mean when she says, “Once in my life, I met the Black Man.  This scarlet letter is his mark.”


  1. Why does Pearl think the minister holds his hand over his heart?  How is there symbolic truth in what she says?


Chapter 17:  “The Pastor and His Parishioner”


  1. How has Dimmesdale’s secret sin affected his life?  Use a quote to support your answers and cite the page number.


  1. What is Dimmesdale’s “secret poison his malignity, infecting all air about him?”


  1. From what does Hester hope to save Dimmesdale by telling him the truth about Chillingworth?


  1. Does Hester still love Dimmesdale?  Use a quote to support your answer.  Cite a page number.


  1. What is Dimmesdale’s reaction to the truth?


  1. What future plans does Hester suggest to Dimmesdale as a way to escape Chillingworth?


Chapter 18:  “A Flood of Sunshine”


1.        What is Dimmesdale’s decision in response to Hester’s plea that they leave the colony?  Cite a quote and page number to support your answer.


  1. Why is the chapter called, “A Flood of Sunshine” ?


  1. What does Hester do that symbolizes putting the past behind them?


  1. What is the sunshine a symbol of?


  1. When Hester throws down her scarlet letter, the transfiguration foreshadowed Chapter 13 occurs, and Hester’s beauty returns.  What is the “magic touch” that effects the transformation?


  1. Near the end of this chapter, the forest creatures are naturally drawn to Pearl and recognize her as “a kindred wildness.”  How do you account for this wildness in Pearl ?



Chapter 19: “The Child at the Brookside ”


  1. What does Dimmesdale mean when he says, “Oh, Hester, what a thought is that, and how terrible to dread it !  that my own features were part repeated in her face, and so strikingly that the world might see them!”


  1. Why is Pearl upset when her mother calls her?


  1. What is Pearl ’s reaction to Dimmesdale?  How is Pearl a symbol for Hester and Dimmesdale?


Chapter 20:  “The Minister in a Maze”


1.        Where have Hester and Dimmesdale decided to go when they leave Boston ?  Why do they choose to go to Europe rather than remain in the New World ?


  1. How does it happen that Hester is acquainted with the captain of the ship now in the harbor?


  1. Why does Dimmesdale consider it fortunate that the ship is not to sail for 4 days?


  1. When Mistress Hibbens offers to introduce Dimmesdale to “yonder potentate you wot of,” to whom is she referring?


Chapters 21 “The New England Holiday ,”  and Chapter 22 “The Procession”


1.        What have the crowds of people gathered in the market-place to witness?


  1. Of what ceremony in England was the Election Day pageantry a pale imitation?


  1. What piece of unwelcome news does the master of the ship on which, she, Pearl , and Dimmesdale are to sail have for Hester?


  1. What is particularly noticeable about Dimmesdale’s manner as he walks in the procession?


  1. Where does Hester stand during the procession and during Dimmesdale’s sermon in the church?


Chapter 23 “The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter” and Chapter 24 “Conclusion”


  1. How does Dimmesdale appear as he leaves the church after his triumphant sermon?


  1. How does Pearl react when Dimmesdale calls Hester and herself to mount the scaffold with him?


  1. Where, according to Chillingworth< is the one place where Dimmesdale could have successfully escaped him?


  1. What were some of the conjectures made by parishioners as to the origin of the minister’s scarlet letter?


  1. What explanation for the events of Election Day is made by the minister’s friends to make him seem blameless?


  1. Dimmesdale enters the church energetically and upright to give his sermon;  he leaves it stooped and tottering.  How would you account for each of these quite different ways he carried himself?  What  might we assume has happened to him during the course of the sermon?


  1. Explain why Chillingworth desperately tries to stop Dimmesdale from confessing his sins on the scaffold?


  1. What do you think Dimmesdale means when he describes his and Hester’s sin as violating “our reverence for each other’s soul” ?



The Novel as a Whole


1.        One consequence of sin in THE SCARLET LETTER  is that the sinner acquires the ability to sense or recognize the sins of others. For example, in Chapter 5, Hester realizes that the scarlet letter she wears gives her “a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sins in other hearts.”  Show how the same kind of insight is possessed by Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and Mistress Hibbens.






  1. Another consequence of sin in this novel is isolation.  Cite passages that indicate the isolation of the 3 major characters” Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth.





  1. In this novel, Hawthorne makes extensive use of symbols - people, places, or objects that re made to take on a larger meaning.  Explain briefly Hawthorne’s use of the following as symbols:  the scaffold, the forest, weeds, and poisonous plants.





  1. Some readers believe that the elaborate decoration that Hester embroiders on the scarlet letter indicates her rejection of the community’s view of her act.  Do you agree or disagree?  Explain.




5.  Find 2 examples of verbal irony,  2 examples of dramatic irony,  and 2 examples of situational irony in the novel.   


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Teacher wants to know the underlying significance to the author titling the chapter as he did.