The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 3

Objective

Analyze Hawthorne’s portrayal of Hester and her situation in Chapter 2.

Readings and Materials

  • Book: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  — Chapter 2: The Marketplace

Target Task

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Question 1

Which of the following best describes the demeanor of the crowd as described in paragraph one?

A.

solemn

B.

frail

C.

accepting

D.

inauspicious

Question 2

The narrator’s description of the women in the crowd as “morally, as well as materially” of a “coarser fiber” indicates that they are

A.

guilty and dishonest.

B.

gracious and kind.

C.

unattractive and harsh.

D.

pious and virtuous.

Question 3

What do you, the reader, know about Hester and her situation after having read the first two chapters of the novel? What techniques (select from the list below) does Hawthorne use to reveal this information? Use relevant details from the text to support your answer.

  • Characterization
  • Juxtaposition
  • Diction
  • Narration
  • Imagery
  • Other relevant techniques of your choice

Key Questions

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  • How does the narrator describe the crowd that has assembled at the beginning of Chapter 2?
  • Where have they assembled?
  • What is unusual about their demeanor according to Hawthorne?
  • What is the relationship between religion and law in this town?
  • How does the relationship between religion and the law impact the people’s behavior according to paragraph one?
  • Who is taking particular interest in the “penal infliction” that is about to occur?
  • How does Hawthorne describe the women in the second paragraph? Track his diction here and throughout the chapter.
  • What seems to be the women’s opinion of Hester Prynne? Of the punishment she has received from the magistrates? What diction supports your answer?
  • Who is the “town-beadle”? What does he represent according to the text on p. 4?
  • Who can we infer is the “young woman” with the beadle? How do Hawthorne’s descriptions of her actions help to characterize her on this page?
  • What is she holding? What does it mean that she realized “one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another?”
  • Track the diction used to describe the young woman. How does the author juxtapose her against the women in the crowd?
  • According to the descriptions on pp. 4 and 5, what surprised the people in the crowd about Hester’s appearance as she emerged from prison?
  • What is the meaning of the Beadle’s phrase, “iniquity is dragged into the sunshine,” and how does it help to characterize the Puritans?
  • We know by p. 4 that Hester’s punishment is to wear the scarlet letter and stand with her child on the scaffold in the center of the Marketplace while the whole town looks on. Track the following on pp. 4–8
      Track evidence of the difference between Hester’s inner feelings and the outer appearance she is presenting during this experience. Track evidence that hints at what the “sin” is for which she is being punished. Track evidence that the townspeople seem to consider her sin a very grave one necessitating harsh punishment.
  • Track evidence of the difference between Hester’s inner feelings and the outer appearance she is presenting during this experience.
  • Track evidence that hints at what the “sin” is for which she is being punished.
  • Track evidence that the townspeople seem to consider her sin a very grave one necessitating harsh punishment.
  • Who is narrating the story thus far? What impact does the narration have on what we as readers know?
  • What/who does Hester see as she looks out at the crowd?
  • What does she come to realize more fully as she stands before the crowd? How does this realization impact her?
  • Track evidence of the difference between Hester’s inner feelings and the outer appearance she is presenting during this experience.
  • Track evidence that hints at what the “sin” is for which she is being punished.
  • Track evidence that the townspeople seem to consider her sin a very grave one necessitating harsh punishment.

Notes

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The teacher might wish to provide a visual depicting the layout of an early New England settlement or ask students to do a quick sketch based on descriptions in the novel. Particularly, the proximity of the prison, the marketplace, and the scaffold might help students visualize the action of the novel.