The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 21


Identify and analyze Hawthorne’s use of juxtaposition in “A New England Holiday.”

Readings and Materials

  • Book: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  — Chapter 21: A New England Holiday

Target Task


Question 1

Which statement best describes a technique Hawthorne uses to characterize the Puritans on pp. 105–106?


He emphasizes the Puritan’s hypocrisy by comparing their holiday festivities to those in England. 


He underscores their dreary lives by describing their dull clothing in much detail.


He hints at their unforgiving attitudes by showing their judgmental interactions with Hester.


He demonstrates their lack of spontaneity by contrasting them with the Native Americans and the sailors.

Question 2

The author uses Pearl’s phrase, “here in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not,” to develop the idea that


Pearl cannot forgive her mother and Dimmesdale for their sins.


Soon Pearl, Hester, and Dimmesdale will be able to start a new life together.


Dimmesdale remains trapped by his inability to publicly confess the truth.


Puritans are hypocritical people who cannot allow happiness to anyone.

Question 3

Choose one example of juxtaposition in Chapter 21, and explain how it develops the theme of hypocrisy.

Question 4

What “secret and fearful meaning” does Chillingworth’s smile convey at the end of the chapter? Explain.

Key Questions


  • Track evidence throughout the chapter that describes the “holiday” that is being celebrated and what the celebration looks like.
  • How does the narrator describe Hester’s clothing on p. 103? What is juxtaposed with the appearance of her clothing? What is the impact of this juxtaposition?
  • What does the narrator mean that Hester is “already dead” on p. 104? What hope do we know she is secretly holding inside despite this outward appearance?
  • How does the narrator describe Pearl? What is she juxtaposed against? How does Hawthorne use this juxtaposition to develop mood?
  • How does Hawthorne develop the motif of light and dark on p. 105? How does this motif contribute to the theme of hypocrisy?
  • Track the narrator’s description of the festivities and of the Puritan people. Who does he juxtapose them against on pp. 106–107 (two or three separate groups)? How does this juxtaposition help to further characterize the Puritans? How does it help reveal Hawthorne’s opinion of or tone toward the Puritans?
  • Who is the narrator describing here? How does Hawthorne develop the theme of hypocrisy in this line? “They transgressed without fear or scruple, the rules of behavior that were binding on all others.” (p. 107)
  • Track the narrator’s juxtaposition of the sea and the land. How does he characterize them differently? To what effect?
  • Who approaches the shipmaster to talk? (p. 108)
  • What does Hester learn in her conversation with the mariner? What impact does this news have on Hester’s hope for the future? Why? 
  • Why is Chillingworth joining them? What does this scene foreshadow? Why?