The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 20


Analyze and explain how Hawthorne uses this chapter to convey Dimmesdale’s internal conflict and foreshadow his fate.

Readings and Materials

  • Book: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  — Chapter 20: The Minister in a Maze

Target Task


Question 1

Based on pp. 97–98, how did being in the forest seem to change Dimmesdale? 


He is now torn between hope and guilt.


He believes he has lost his mind and it is all a dream.


He is eager to confess his sin to his parishioners.


He is healthier and has more hope for the future.

Question 2

Describe Dimmesdale’s internal conflict as developed in this chapter. Describe using evidence from the text.

Question 3

Is Dimmesdale moving closer to or further away from redemption for his sin? Explain using evidence from the text.

Key Questions


  • Why does Dimmesdale think, on p. 97, that he may have dreamt his reunion with Hester in the forest?
  • How does the narrator describe the impact of the reunion with Hester on Dimmesdale? Track references to his plans, his physical health, his hopes, etc., on pp. 97–98.
  • Does love have the power to revive the spirit and cure the sick?
  • What has been the impact of the forest on Dimmesdale’s state of mind?
  • What does Hawthorne mean when he writes, “nothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral code, in that interior kingdom, was adequate to account for the impulses now communicated…,” on p. 98? Track actions by Dimmesdale that the narrator attributes to this change in “moral code” on pp. 98–100.
  • What is the source of Dimmesdale’s moral demise?
  • Why does Dimmesdale suspect he interacted with the Black Man in the forest?
  • “Tempted by the dream of happiness…deadly sin.” Is Dimmesdale and Hester’s hope of happiness despite their shame a sin?
  • Describe the significance of the chapter’s title. What does it mean? How do you know?