AP English Lit/Mr. Kirby
Name: Turah Hicks
LITERARY ANALYSIS DATA SHEET
Significant biographical details about the author:
Title: The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Date of Publication: 1850

Sources: The European Graduate
School, The United States Census
Bureau, Shmoop, Sparknotes,
Archbold, DeemerScarletLetter.
Time Period:

The September 18, 1850, Fugitive Slave
Act: all slaves brought to Free states must
be returned.

Millard Fillmore becomes the 13th
President of the United States after
Zachary Taylor's death on July 9, 1850.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on
July 4, 1804. The original last name was Hathorne, but he
added a ‘w’ later to distinguish himself from the history
which included John Hathorne, a judge in the Salem witch
trials. “The Scarlet Letter” was presumably the book he was
best known for. After reading his wife the novel, he stated,
"It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous
headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success."
Genre:
Gothic, Romantic, Historical
Involves mystery, Villains, supernatural events,
and a not-so-typical love story.
Summary/Synopsis:
In the mid 1600’s, a woman named Hester Prynne moved to Boston while her husband stayed behind
to handle affairs and had not returned to her for two years. She committed adultery and had a baby
girl, whom she named Pearl. As ordered by the town, she is made to wear a scarlet “A” on her clothes
for everyone to see. It is supposed shameful, but Hester makes the “A” pretty to look at. While
Hester is receiving punishment, she sees her husband in the crowd. They later speak while she is in
jail, and he tells her that he is now using the alias Roger Chillingworth so that he is not associated
with Hester. Everyone wants to know who Pearl’s father is, but Hester refuses to tell anyone, even
Pearl. Hester’s Husband seeks revenge on Pearl’s father, whom the reader later finds out is Reverend
Dimmesdale. He later dies and leaves all of his wealth to Pearl, even though it isn’t his daughter.
Hester and Pearl then move to England, far away from their past, but Hester later returns. The book
ends with Hester and Dimmesdale’s gravestone.
Literary Analysis Data Sheet
page 2
Literary Techniques:
Examples:
Allegory- Gives Characters deeper symbolic
meanings;
Hester-Shame, Letter A-Sin
"Hester, though he were to step down from a high
place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of
shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart
through life."
Foreshadowing-Hester and Pearl stand on the scaffold
together
Satire-Old women of the town want her branded with
the letter A as punishment
“Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy
mother and thee one other day, but not tomorrow.”
“The ladies are called church members in good
repute… They want to put a brand of hot iron on
Hester's forehead.”
Significant Quotes
“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine
does not love you. It runs away and
hides itself, because it is afraid of
something on your bosom. . . . It will not
flee from me, for I wear nothing on my
bosom yet!”
“Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said
Hester.
“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl,
stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of
its own accord, when I am a woman
grown?”
Pearl identifies the scarlet letter on her mother’s bosom
with the metaphorical lack of sunshine in her mother’s
life. Here Pearl is assuming that her mother is
representative of all adults and all adults wear a scarlet
letter.
“Mother,” said [Pearl], “was that the
same minister that kissed me by the
brook?”
“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!”
whispered her mother. “We must not
always talk in the market-place of what
happens to us in the forest.”
This conversation takes place a few days after Hester
and Pearl’s encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest.
Hester wishes Pearl to not reveal her mother’s secret
plan to flee. Hester’s statement suggests that plans made
in the forest are forbidden. What is possible in the
woods is not an option in the heart of the Puritan town.
“Here had been her sin; here, her
sorrow; and here was yet to be her
penitence. She had returned, therefore,
and resumed,—of her own free will, for
not the sternest magistrate of that iron
period would have imposed it,—
resumed the symbol of which we have
related so dark a tale. Never afterwards
did it quit her bosom. But . . . the scarlet
letter ceased to be a stigma which
attracted the world’s scorn and
bitterness, and became a type of
something to be sorrowed over, and
looked upon with awe, and yet with
reverence, too.”
After many years, Hester returned to her former home.
She resumes wearing the scarlet letter because her past
is an part of her identity and cannot be changed just
because someone declared it shameful. She creates a life
in which the scarlet letter is not a sign of failure or
condemnation. She is not the example of sin that she
was once intended to be. Rather, she is an example of
redemption.
Literary Analysis Data Sheet
page 3
Characters
Name
Role in the story
Hester Prynne
Main Character
Roger
Chillingworth
Hester’s Husband
Arthur
Dimmesdale
Pearl’s father and
the man Hester
commited adultery
with
Pearl
Hester and
Dimesdale’s
daughter
Significance or Purpose
Adjectives
Commits adultery and is forced
to wear a red letter “A” on her
clothing for the rest of her life as
punishment.
Shameful, sinful,
guilty,
contemplative,
compassionate
Furious with the affair his wife
had, seeks revenge on the other
man.
Cold-hearted,
twisted, careless,
distorted
Hester takes all of the blame for
the affair and doesn’t tell anyone
who she had the affair with. He
becomes a great leader in the
novel but is guilty on the inside.
Guilty, caring,
strong, empathetic
More perceptive of the truth in
the world than many of the
adults. She doesn’t find out
Dimmesdale is her father until
much later
Innocent, intuitive,
wise, caring
Literary Analysis Data Sheet
page 4
Setting:
Themes:
Mid-17th century New England (Boston,
Massachusetts Bay Colony)
Sin and knowledge are two major themes.
For Hester, the scarlet letter is her
punishment for adultery, which is a sin. As
for Dimmesdale, the “burden” of his sin
gives him “sympathies so intimate with the
sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his
heart vibrate[s] in unison with theirs.” Sin is
a threat to the puritan community that
should be punished and suppressed.
This community was specifically designed to be
religiously pure, which means being secularly
strict. This explains Hester’s punishment.
Symbols:
Pearl serves as the proof of a sin that was
committed by Hester, but Hester sees Pearl as
more of a prize than a price.
The Scarlet Letter ‘A” is the mark of sin on
Hester for committing adultery, but she later
views it as a mark of her identity that makes her
an individual who is only human.
The forest is unknown to the townspeople and
offers a sanctuary of some sort to Hester and
Pearl. The forest is without laws and criticizing
eyes of the town.
Identity and society are two more major
themes. Hester returns to her hometown
after moving far away to relieve the turmoil
she endured while wearing the scarlet letter.
She realizes that it was a part of her identity
and she could only embrace it rather than try
to act like it never happened. To her,
running away or removing the letter would
be an acknowledgment of society’s power
over her: she would be admitting that the
letter is a mark of shame.
Discussion Questions:
1. If Hester Prynne could have changed one thing about Puritan society, what do you think it
would have been?
2. Is religion ultimately depicted as a positive or a negative force in the novel? Who does it
particularly seem to benefit?
3. Why did Hester leave her hometown then return? What was her reasoning for accepting her
past?