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The Scarlet Letter Essay Topics

Instructor: Tara Schofield
Once The Scarlet Letter has been read, there are many meaningful questions that can be analyzed. This lesson provides some sample essay questions that students can evaluate to deepen their understanding and appreciation for the novel.

Essay Questions

As students explore the lessons in The Scarlet Letter, there are some questions that will help them develop essay responses. Use the questions below to generate deeper thinking regarding the novel.

Social Pressures

  • In The Scarlet Letter, the characters are pressured by religious and societal expectations. Explain how the expectations affect the behavior of Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, and Arthur Dimmesdale. Had these characters lived in today's times, how may their behaviors have changed?
  • The Puritan belief system played a big role in the events in the story. Describe ways in which the characters were affected by Puritan beliefs. In what ways did the beliefs help them? In what ways did the beliefs hurt them?
  • In The Scarlet Letter, Pearl is born out of wedlock and her father's identity is hidden. Additionally, her mother lives in shame and guilt for her actions. In what ways did this affect Pearl? What may her life have been like if she had been born to parents who were married and had the approval of society?
  • In the story, Hester is imprisoned. Why was Hester imprisoned? What lesson was this meant to teach her? Explain how prison affected Hester.

Character Decisions

  • Why did Hester decide to keep Pearl's father's identity private? How did this decision affect her life and her interaction with others in the community? How could things have been different if she had revealed the father when Pearl was born?
  • There are several instances in The Scarlet Letter where secrets were kept in an attempt to protect or shelter others. Which secrets impacted other characters and how did those secrets ultimately do more damage? Imagine the information had not remained secret; how would the story have changed and the outcomes been altered?
  • The novel explains many behavioral challenges displayed by Pearl. Discuss her behavior and how it may have been affected by the factors surrounding her conception and family situation.

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