The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 23

Objective

Explain the significance of Hester’s return to the Puritan community at the end of the novel.

Readings and Materials

  • Book: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  — Chapter 23: The Revelation and Chapter 24: The Conclusion

Target Task

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In this final chapter, Hawthorne tells us that the moral (or one of the morals) of the story is “Be true! Be true! Be true! Freely show to the world, if not your words, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.” Interpret this moral in your own words and trace how Hawthorne has used each of his main characters to develop this moral. Use evidence to support your answers.

Key Questions

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  • How do the townspeople characterize Dimmesdale’s sermon?
  • Why is the following line from p. 116 particularly significant: “…never had man spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit…” What does this line reveal about hypocrisy, sin, and/or compassion?
  • The author uses the word pathos in both Chapters 22 and 23. What is pathos? How does Hawthorne develop pathos for the characters in the novel? Which characters? Track your answers.
  • According to the descriptions on pp. 116 and 117, how do the townspeople view Dimmesdale? Track the diction.
  • How does the narrator juxtapose the relative positions of Dimmesdale and Hester on pp. 116–117? To what effect?
  • Compare the townspeople’s feelings toward Dimmesdale at this moment to Dimmesdale’s physical appearance on p. 117. What can you infer about how he is feeling at this moment? What accounts for this discrepancy between the people’s feelings and his own?
  • To whom does Dimmesdale call as he nears the scaffold? What can his purpose be?
  • Why does Chillingworth rush forward? Why would he want to stop Dimmesdale from confessing?
  • What does Dimmesdale ask of Hester?
  • What does Chillingworth mean when he says there is no place “where thou couldst have escaped me – save on this very scaffold”? How does Dimmesdale reply?
  • What does the narrator mean when he says on p. 119 that many people were “unable to receive the explanation which most readily presented itself.” Why?
  • Dimmesdale asks Hester, “Is not this better…than what we dreamed of in the forest?” What does he mean? Does she seem to agree? Do you? Does Hawthorne? Why?
  • What does it mean that Dimmesdale would “put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice”? (p. 119)
  • What does Dimmesdale tell the people on p. 120?
  • What is the “ghastly miracle” described on p. 120?
  • What does Chillingworth mean when he says that Dimmesdale has “escaped”?
  • How is Pearl transformed when she kisses Dimmesdale? Why?
  • What does Hester ask the dying Dimmesdale and how does he respond? 
  • How does this chapter develop the theme of sin and redemption?
  • The narrator encourages the reader to choose which theory to believe on p. 121? Which do you choose? Why? Why do you think Hawthorne leaves it to the reader?
  • Why do some people refuse to believe Dimmesdale’s confession? What interpretation do they offer? (p. 122) How does the narrator seem to judge this interpretation?
  • What happened to Chillingworth? What explanation does the narrator give for why?
  • What do you make of the narrator’s argument that love and hate are essentially the same on p. 123? In what ways do you agree? Disagree? What evidence from the novel supports your answer?
  • How do the townspeople’s opinions of Pearl change? To what does the narrator at least partially attribute this change?
  • Where do Hester and Pearl go? What is the reader meant to infer about Why Hester then returns? What evidence supports that inference?
  • Who decides that Hester should resume wearing the scarlet letter? Why? What does it represent at the end of the novel?
  • What is Hester’s role in the community at the end of her life?
  • Describe where Hester is buried and the message on her tombstone. Why are these two things significant? How do they harken back to the beginning of the novel?