The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 2


Describe the mood, tone, and setting as established by Hawthorne in Chapter 1.

Analyze Hawthorne’s use of symbolism to introduce a major theme of the novel.

Readings and Materials

Target Task


Question 1

What does the phrase, “have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison,” suggest about the Puritans depicted here?


They are a serious and severe people.


They are a very practical community.


No one can know for sure what their society was like.


Many criminals had invaded their peaceful colony.

Question 2

It can be reasonably inferred from Hawthorne’s descriptions that the prison door represents the ways in which Puritan society is


skillful and resourceful.


practical and cold.


old and decaying.


harsh and strict.

Question 3

Hawthorne’s description of the rosebush as showing a condemned prisoner that “the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him” indicates that the bush mostly symbolizes


human frailty.




the natural world.



Question 4

Describe how Hawthorne juxtaposes the prison door and the rosebush to reveal some of the central conflict and themes of the novel. Use evidence to support your answer.

Key Questions


  • Read the first paragraph of the novel. In this short paragraph, what do you learn about the mood? The setting? The author’s tone toward his subjects? Identify the diction that Hawthorne uses to establish all three of these immediately.

  • Track the author’s choice of diction as he develops mood, tone, and setting in the rest of Chapter 1.

  • What does Hawthorne want readers to infer about Puritans and Puritan society based on his first sentence of paragraph 2? Explain.

  • In what New England city (then town) is this story set?

  • What is the building that the group described in paragraph one is standing before? Why does Hawthorne describe it as the “black flower of civilized society”?

  • What other flower does Hawthorne then immediately describe? Where is this flower located? Based on the juxtaposition, what might it represent? 

  • In the final paragraph of the chapter, what else do we learn about this bush and the plot of the novel? What diction conveys this information?

  • How does the allusion to Ann Hutchinson help to develop the setting and mood?



  • Chapter 1 is very brief—only one page long. Students should read and reread this chapter both as a class and independently. The complex diction and powerful symbolism should be analyzed slowly and deliberately to set students up for success as they trace the themes of judgment and forgiveness throughout the novel.
  • In addition, extra time should be allotted for students to write a more polished response to target task question 4.