The Scarlet Letter – Chapters 1-3 – Questions

What is the setting of “The Scarlet Letter”? A new colony located in Boston (Puritan colony); 17th Century (1642)
Why does Hawthorne begin the story with a reflection about the need for a cemetery and a prison? Even though the colony is shown as a utopia, the Puritans still recognize that there will be crime and death, making both necessary (original sin). This also sets up a dark tone & gloomy setting for the novel. The prison is symbolic of condemned and disgraced people.
What is the significance of the wild rosebush that grows beside the prison door? The prison is a dark and dreary place and the rosebush offers brightness and hope, showing that there is always good in life to offset the bad.
Who was Ann Hutchinson? She immigrated to Boston in 1634 and became an influential religious leader, arrested because she was seen as a threat by the civil and religious leaders. Her beliefs were unorthodox. She was eventually sent away from the community and killed by Indians.
What does Hawthorne achieve by his reference to “the sainted Ann Hutchinson?” He shows us how serious the Puritans take their crimes which prepares us for what to expect from the novel.
On what note does chapter 2 begin? People are all standing around the prison waiting for someone to emerge.
For what sin is Hester Prynne condemned? Adultery
What is the Old Testament punishment for adultery? Death
What is the public view of Hester’s sin as expressed by the women outside the prison? What do their comments suggest about this society? They are angry and feel that even killing her would be letting her off easy. They want to have her branded with an iron. Their beliefs reflect the strict adherence to religious values and morals in their society.
What is Hester’s punishment? She has to wear a scarlet letter A on her clothing for the rest of her life and she has to stand on the scaffold for 3 hours and be mocked.
What is surprising about the “A” Hester has sewn for herself? What might this indicate? It was very ornate and artistically done, more so than what is allowed by the colony. The ladies gossip that this makes it seem that she is proud of her sins.
What is accomplished by Hawthorne’s allusion to the Madonna and child? There are parallels drawn between Mary and Hester and how they draw their strength from their baby. Also, there are parallels drawn between the baby and Jesus and their innocence.
What purpose does the conversation between the townsman and the stranger at the beginning of the chapter serve? It provides needed background information about her missing husband, herself, and the circumstances of her adultery.
Why wasn’t Hester sentenced to death for her adultery? The leaders felt that it was worse to live in shame for the rest of her life. They also would not sentence her to death before birth and kill the child. Finally,though they would never admit it, they all want to know who the father is too badly to kill her and never find out.
Where has the stranger been? What motion does he make to Hester? He has been living with the Indians in the Wild. He places his finger to his lips.
Who is Dimmesdale? What appeal does he use to convince Hester to reveal the baby’s father? Dimmesdale is the young minister. He tells Hester she would be doing a justice by revealing the father’s identity because he would no longer live with hypocrisy and guilt.
What is Hawthorne foreshadowing with the stranger’s prediction that the name of the father will eventually be disclosed? The stranger will pursue the name of the father himself. The name of the father will be revealed at some point in the novel.
What is ironic about Dimmesdale’s reaction to Hester’s refusal to name the father of the child? He seemed to be relieved and referred to the wondrous strength and generosity of a woman’s heart.
Explain the allusion in the townsman’s telling the stranger “that matter remaineth a riddle; and the Daniel who shall expoud it is yet a-wanting.” Daniel was a prophet in the Old Testament and was blessed by God with his ability to interpret dreams and visions. It will take a divine revelation to expose the identity of the father.

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