The Scarlet Letter


Study Questions


Chapters 1-3

  1. As the story opens a throng is gathered.  Who are these people?  Where and why are they gathered?
  2. The description in Chapter 1 of the people’s dress, the prison, and the surrounding vegetation serves to establish certain important impressions of Puritan society at the time of the story.  What impressions of this society do you get from the opening chapter?
  3. The story itself begins with the punishment of Hester Prynne.
    1. What early hints do you get in Chapter 2 about the nature of her crime?
    2. What more definite information about her crime do you get in Chapter 3?
  4. What 2 punishments have been assigned to Hester Prynne?
  5. Standing on the scaffold, Hester envisions her earlier life.  What facts do you learn about her previous life?  What was her relationship with the man “well stricken in years”?
  6. One man in the surrounding crowd is singled out.  He is described as “clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume.”
    1. What effect does his presence have on Hester?
    2. What is the significance of his laying his finger on his lips when Hester fastens her eyes on him?
    3. What clues are there to his identity?
  7. While on the scaffold, Hester is subjected to a kind of interrogation.
    1. What important question related to her crime remains unanswered?
    2. What plea do the two ministers make in regard to this question?
    3. Who else besides the 2 clergymen questions her in this matter?
    4. What is Hester’s response?
  8. Based on the reading you have done in these chapters, do you have a theory about the answer to the question which the ministers have put to Hester?  If you do, explain what you have noticed in your reading that might support your theory.


Chapters 4-8

  1. Why does the jailer bring Roger Chillingworth to see Hester in the prison?
  2. What is Chillingworth’s real identity?
  3. What is his purpose in visiting Hester?
  4. What explanation does he offer for Hester’s downfall?
  5. What promise does he compel Hester to give?
  6. What is Hester’s situation to the community after her release from prison?  How does she support herself?
  7. How does Pearl’s life differ from that of other Puritan children?
  8. What is Hester’s real purpose in visiting Governor Bellingham’s mansion?  How is she able to accomplish this purpose?
  9. What significance do you see in the few remarks made by Chillingworth on this occasion?
  10. Have you been able to observe any further clues as to the identity of Pearl’s father in these chapters?  If so, what are they?


Chapters 9-12

1.      Why was Roger Chillingworth a valuable addition to the town?

2.      What is happening to Dimmesdale at this point?

3.      Rather than a physical ailment, what did Chillingworth decide was the source of Dimmesdale’s problems?

4.      What did some of the townspeople believe about Chillingworth?

5.      Summarize the conversation between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale about “secret sins.”

6.      How has Chillingworth’s original wish to see justice done changed?

7.      What is Chillingworth’s explanation to Dimmesdale about his illness?  What is Dimmesdale’s reaction?

8.      What do you think Chillingworth saw when he looked under the sleeping Dimmesdale’s shirt?

9.      How is Dimmesdale now at the mercy of Chillingworth?

10.  How does Dimmesdale’s suffering make him more popular with his congregation?

11.  How does Dimmesdale punish himself for his sin?

12.  Where does Dimmesdale go one night?

13.  Who joins him?

14.  What appears in the sky?

15.  Who has been watching them?


Chapters 13-15

  1. What decision about Dimmesdale has Hester made?
  2. How has the attitude of the townspeople toward Hester changed during this seven year interval?
  3. What error does Hester feel she had made regarding her earlier promise to Chillingworth?
  4. What circumstances have made her award of this error?
  5. How does Chillingworth respond to Hester’s plea that he change his course of action?
  6. What persistent questions does Pearl keep asking?
  7. Why does Hester reply as she does?


Chapters 16-20

  1. Why does Hester plan to meet with Dimmesdale?
  2. How do Hester and the minister at first react to each other?
  3. How does Hester at first try to console Dimmesdale in his misery?
  4. How does the minister reply?
  5. What effect does Hester’s revelation about Chillingworth have on Dimmesdale?
  6. What, according to Dimmesdale, was the “worst sin” committed by Chillingworth?   Explain.
  7. What decision did Hester and Dimmesdale finally come to?
  8. Why does Pearl respond in a different way to her mother?
  9. How does Dimmesdale act as he is going back to town?




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