The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 7


Analyze Hester’s decision to stay in Boston.

Analyze how Hawthorne develops the theme of isolation in Chapter 5.

Readings and Materials

Target Task


Question 1

The words remote, alone, and lonesome are used in the first paragraph of p. 20 to 


question why the society is punishing Hester so severely.


stress that Hester has chosen to remain rather than to flee. 


emphasize that Hester’s home is physically separate from the rest of the town’s inhabitants.


imply that the town magistrates have taken Pearl and left Hester to suffer her punishment alone.

Question 2

Which statement best characterizes Hester’s relationship to the townspeople?


Despite their strict penal code, the townspeople begin to show compassion and forgiveness to Hester.


Despite appreciation for her needlework, the townspeople continue to isolate and shame Hester.


As she develops the ability to sense their sins, the townspeople begin to isolate and ignore Hester.


As she dabbles in witchcraft and black magic, the townspeople begin to fear Hester and her scarlet letter.

Question 3

What do we learn about Hester from her decision to stay in Boston despite being free to leave? Use evidence from throughout the chapter to support your answer.

Question 4

Hawthorne develops the theme of isolation in this chapter. Thus far in the novel, we have seen Hester isolate herself and have seen the townspeople isolate her. Why? In what ways are their motivations similar and different? Explain using evidence from the text.

Key Questions


  • Chapter 5, p. 18: What does the narrator mean when he says that Hester’s first day released from prison was “a more real torture” than the day she was paraded in front of the crowd in the marketplace? Explain.
  • The narrator claims on p. 19 that Hester will come to embody what to the preacher and townspeople?
  • According to the narrator, why doesn’t Hester leave and move to Europe or some faraway place? Do you agree or disagree with the narrator’s assertion? What connection can you draw here to The God of Small Things? (The idea that a single act, a single moment in time, can be frozen and forever shape the lives of those whom it impacted)
  • According to the narrator on p. 19, Hester “compelled” herself to believe a “half-truth” about her reasons for staying. What did she tell herself? What does the narrator suggest are her real reasons for staying?
  • At the top of p. 20, the narrator describes where Hester and Pearl will live. Track the diction the narrator uses to describe this place and the reasons its original inhabitants left it.
  • What skill had Hester developed? How do the townspeople feel about her work? What is ironic about this?
  • What is the one occasion for which she is not asked to sew? Why?
  • Describe Hester and Pearl’s clothing according to p. 21.
  • The diction of banished, apart, and alone appears again at the top of p. 22. What does it show about Hester’s relationship to the community?
  • According to p. 22, why does Hester “dread” children?
  • On p. 23, the narrator asks the question, “(Had Hester sinned alone?)” What is the impact of this question being in parentheses? Has she? Explain.
  • What “new sense” had the scarlet letter given Hester? When/why does it “throb”? What does this suggest about whether Hester has “sinned alone”?
  • How do the townspeople treat Hester? Why? What tales do they create about her scarlet A? Why?