The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

ISBN 978-1-60857-031-7

Grammardog Teacher's Guide contains 16 quizzes for this classic American novel.  All sentences are from the novel.  Figurative language exemplifies Romanticism (leaves "whisper," pine trees "moan,"   ". . . the sunshine does not love you.").  Allusions characteristic of Romanticism include "magic circle," "magician's wand," "elfish spirit," "nymph-child," "fairies," "witches," "Eden" and "Pentecost."

PLOT SUMMARY:  Can’t keep this love a secret.  The Grammardog Guide to THE SCARLET LETTER features sentences from the novel in 16 grammar, style and proofreading quizzes that reinforce plot, characters and themes.  The story takes place in Boston in 1642.  A long prologue, The Custom House, gives the background story of how the author found a scarlet letter in the files of the custom house in Salem, Massachusetts where he worked as a clerk.  He investigates the records and discovers the story of Hester Prynne.

Chapter 1 opens at the prison.  The beautiful Hester Prynne exits the prison carrying a baby.  She is marched to the town square and displayed in public on the scaffold.  The authorities demand to know the name of the man who fathered her child in the absence of Hester’s husband. Hester is questioned by Reverend John Wilson and the minister of Hester’s church, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.  Hester refuses to name the child’s father.  She is forced to stand on the scaffold enduring public shaming.  Her punishment is to wear a scarlet letter A (for adultery) on her dress at all times.  Hester sees a familiar face in the crowd – her husband who has been absent for many years.  He has assumed a new name, Roger Chillingworth.  After three hours on the scaffold, Hester returns to her jail cell.

Hester’s baby girl Pearl is sick.  Roger Chillingworth, who claims he is a physician, is admitted to her cell.  He demands to know the name of the child’s father.  Hester refuses to tell him.  Chillingworth pledges to find out who Hester’s lover is and destroy him.  Hester promises to conceal the fact that Chillingworth is really her husband Roger Prynne.

When Hester is released from prison, she and Pearl live on the edge of the village in a cottage on the coast.  Hester earns a living as a seamstress.  Pearl grows to be an unruly child.  Hester dresses her in red which stands out against the Puritan colors of black and gray.  The church elders suggest that Pearl be taken away from Hester.  When she delivers a pair of gloves to Governor Bellingham, Hester plans to assure him that she is a good mother to Pearl.  Reverend Dimmesdale is with the governor when Hester enters.  Dimmesdale takes Hester’s side and convinces the governor that Hester should have custody of Pearl.

Dimmesdale’s congregation worries about his health.  They are relieved when the new doctor in town, Chillingworth, moves in with Dimmesdale to restore his health.  Chillingworth suspects that Dimmesdale’s failing health is caused by shame and guilt.  He strongly suspects that Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father.  While Dimmesdale is asleep, Chillingworth sees a symbol on the minister’s chest that confirms Chillingworth’s suspicion.  It is implied, but not stated, that the letter A has appeared over Dimmesdale’s heart.

Full of guilt Dimmesdale ventures out one night to the town square.  He climbs up on the scaffold where Hester stood and admits his guilt to himself.  Hester and Pearl pass by and climb up to stand with the minister.  As the three stand in the open night air, a comet-like flash appears in the sky shaped like the letter A.  Hester is so shocked by Dimmesdale’s deteriorating physical appearance that she decides to break her promise to Chillingworth and warn Dimmesdale about his doctor’s true identity.

Hester and Pearl meet Dimmesdale in the forest.  Hester reveals Chillingworth’s identity and convinces Dimmesdale to run away with her and start a new life in Europe.  Dimmesdale is renewed in spirit by the prospect of a new life with the woman he loves.  Dimmesdale delivers a sermon on Election Day after which he mounts the scaffold and confesses his sin.  Hester rushes to his side.  Dimmesdale dies in Hester’s arms.  Hester and Pearl leave Boston.  Chillingworth dies soon afterwards and leaves a small fortune to Pearl.

Years later Hester returns to live in her cottage.  She still wears the scarlet letter which has lost its original meaning.  People no longer remember that it stands for “adultery.”  Hester has redeemed herself by leading a good life.  The “A” is now thought to stand for “angel” or “able.”  When she dies, Hester is buried near Dimmesdale.  Their graves share a tombstone with the inscription:  “On a field, sable.  The letter A gules.”  (gules is the heraldic word for “red”)

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