The Scarlet Letter Study Guide
“The Custom House”
4 Purposes of the Hawthorne’s “Introduction”
Chapter 1: “The Prison”
1. What mood for the novel does Hawthorne establish with this chapter?
2. What is being contrasted in this chapter?
3. What might the rosebush symbolize? (See symbol chart)
Chapter 2: "Market Place"
1. As Hester emerges from prison, what is the atmosphere within the town?
2. How do the women in society view Hester and why? What does this say about them?
3. How does Hester emerge both physically and emotionally from the prison doors?
{How is she described?}
4. For what crime is she being punished and what is the punishment? Speculate: Why
do you think she was not sentenced to death?
5. How is the letter A described? Besides the symbolic meaning attached to the letter,
what about it makes it unacceptable to society?
6. How is the beadle, or minor parish officer who keeps order in the church, described?
Carrying a sword and staff, what does he symbolize? Putting these two answers together,
what then is Hawthorne saying about society?
7. Since Hester is a wonderful seamstress and was responsible for sewing the letter to her
bosom "for all eternity", why did she sew it so beautifully? That is, what statement is she
making to society by sewing it so "perfectly"?
8. How does Hester view her punishment?
9. How would you have reacted to being subjected to such public display of your
10. Does anything like this public admonishment go on in society today? What letter
might those people be forced to wear?
Chapter 3 "The Recognition"
1. How does Chillingworth react upon seeing Hester? What is ironic about this
considering the end of the chapter?
2. Revisit question 4 from chapter 2. Why was Hester not put to death? What does this
say about Puritan's belief of sin and atonement?
3. What could perhaps save her from her "sin"? {That is, what do the townspeople want
to know?}
4. Dimmesdale's appears to be conflicted internally in this chapter as he pleads with
Hester to reveal the father of the child. Why?
5. Can you personally blame Hester for the affair? Should she take all the punishment
and condemnation? Support your answer.
6. Why would Hawthorne have chosen to title this chapter "The Recognition"?
{Consider what we have come to recognize about the four main characters, even if only
on a superficial level at this point.}
Chapter 4: "The Interview"
1. Who does Chillingworth pretend to be in order to see Hester in prison? Why would
this work (after all, he is a stranger to the town)?
2. What revelation is made clear through their conversation?
3. Why is Chillingworth glad Hester's life was spared?
4. Chillingworth asks Hester not to reveal who he truly is. What does this say about
him? What about the position he has now put her in? (See dialogue at end of chapter)
5. Would you have agreed to keep his secret? Why did Hester?
6. Hawthorne uses very specific language to describe Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.
Provide some examples of these descriptions. {You will revisit these descriptions several
times and may need to look back to other chapters as well.}
7. What might be symbolic of these character descriptions?
Chapter 5: "Hester at her Needle"
1. Where does Hester go/reside upon the end of her prison sentence?
2. Why not just leave Boston?
3. Contrast the way Hester treats the people in society and the way they treat her.
4. The "A" on her bosom is a source of shame for Hester and is viewed so by all as such;
however, it is also a shield behind which she hides. Furthermore, Hester comes to believe
the "A" gives her certain abilities. What abilities does it give her?
5. The women of society all favor Hester for her ability to sew, yet they refuse to let her
sew materials for weddings for fear she will taint the sacred day. What commentary
about society is Hawthorne further illustrating with the societal behaviors?
Chapter 6: "Pearl"
1. How is Pearl described in this chapter both directly (through Hawthorne's words) and
indirectly (through her own actions, mother's statements, etc)?
2. In what ways does this description uphold Puritan ideology/belief?
3. In this chapter Hawthorne further provides commentary on society's self-serving, false
piety by juxtaposing the community's response to Hester's affair and God's response to it.
How does he do this? {Juxtapose means to compare side by side}
4. Consider this: If Pearl is a product of her mother's adulterous sin, and therefore
deemed evil, can something good come from evil?

Study Guide Custom House