Nathaniel Hawthorne TheScarlet Letter Essay Topics That Will Work
If you read the Scarlet Letter in high school (and it is pretty standard fare in an American literature course), you will no doubt also have studied about Puritan society in the Salem, Massachusetts colony. It was a pretty intolerant society – so much so that, even today we refer to people as Puritanical if they are fanatic about their religious beliefs and insist upon condemning and judging others for their “moral” failures. The Scarlet Letter essayassignments that you probably received related to the Puritan religion, to the characters of Hester and Dimmesdale, to the plot elements and possibly to the theme of intolerance. The treatment of the novel at the high school level is usually a bit superficial.
Scarlet Letter Essaysat the college level will involve a more in-depth and complex analyses of this work, as it certainly can be read on many levels and can be seen as a comment on Hawthorne’s current times as well as our own 21st century circumstances. Some appropriate Scarlet Letter essaytopics might fall into the following categories:
- A central theme of the work is the concept of sin. In Puritan society, Hester’s sin of adultery was of course a breaking of one of the 10 Commandments, something that, according to that religion, condemned an individual to Hell, as well as to isolation from current society. Hawthorne also treats other sins that Jesus condemned – hatred, intolerance, and unwillingness to forgive – and condemned the entire town for these sins which he saw as worse than Hester’s. Find examples of these sins in society today.
- Another essay on The Scarlet Lettermight relate to identity. Hester identifies herself as a member of the citizenry of Salem and yet also as an individual with a right to independent thought and action. Rather than leave Salem and go someplace where her sin is not known, she chooses to stay and become and force her “identity” on the rest of the town, simply by her presence.
- In many ways, the novel is also a tale of courage. Hester does not name the father of her baby, chooses to stay in Salem, and lives a quiet, moral and somewhat peaceful, non-judgmental existence. In many ways, she depicts more the person that Jesus would have us be, according to the Bible anyway.
- Still another Scarlet Letter essaymight discuss how Hester’s concept of sin, guilt, and redemption change during the course of the novel.
- The name “Pearl,” chosen by Hester for her child, holds a great deal of symbolism – how something so perfect can actually come from something that was imperfect – an adulterous relationship.
- Are there religions today that typify the intolerance of the Puritans? Which ones are they and how is their intolerance manifested?
A Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter essay,above all, must not be a mere book review. It will be important that you identify a single aspect of the novel, develop a solid thesis statement and develop a good analysis from that.
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Is Hester truly penitent for her crime?
Answer: Though Hester regrets the effect her crime has had on her child and on her position in society, she sees Chillingworth's betrayal of Dimmesdale as an even greater crime. Ultimately, Hester learns to forgive herself for her sins while Dimmesdale does not.
Why does Dimmesdale intervene on Pearl's behalf when Governor Bellingham orders her removed from Hester's care?
Answer: There are two possibilities: either he fears Hester revealing his name or he truly believes that Hester deserves to care for her daughter, since he is emotionally connected to Pearl as her father and wants Hester to raise her. Ultimately, we believe that it is guilt which motivates him most, since he comes to Hester's defense only after she looks at him with imploring eyes.
What is the difference between how adultery is viewed now and how it was viewed by Puritan society? In other words, where does the blame lie?
Answer: In modern society, adultery is seen as a breach of contract between two people and therefore a private matter. In Puritan society, adultery was seen as a breach of contract between two people and the community in which they lived.
How is the Scarlet Letter embodied by Pearl?
Answer: Pearl, in her wild, unrepressed passion, represents the adulterous passion of her parents, as does the scarlet letter. In her society, she is completely out of place, a child of illicit passion and a constant reminder, like the scarlet letter, of that passion.
Why does Dimmesdale keep putting his hand over his heart?
Answer: Pearl asks this question repeatedly of her mother, but Hester will not answer her. Over time, we understand that Dimmesdale has literally and figuratively inscribed his own scarlet letter into the flesh above his heart so that he can commune with Hester's guilt, shame, and public excommunication.
Do people in the community believe Hester's punishment for adultery is too light or too strict?
Answer: For the most part, they believe it is too lenient, and some advocate branding her with a hot iron or death, the sentence associated with the crime of adultery both in the New England statutes of the time and in the Bible. As time progresses, however, they loosen slightly in their attitudes, though not as much as Hester would expect. Those who acknowledge their own sinfulness are somewhat less quick to judge Hester and can see the case for a less strict punishment by the community.
What are the purposes of the opening Custom-House essay?
Answer: The Custom-House introduction does more than increase the length of the novel, which Hawthorne thought was too short. It also adds a frame story and a romantic sense of truth or non-fiction to the tale. It introduces themes and imagery that will appear later in the novel. And it adds weight to the story by suggesting that the actual fabric of the scarlet letter continues to hold power.
Who is more racked by guilt, Hester or Dimmesdale?
Answer: Dimmesdale has sinned according to his own system of beliefs, since as the town minister he has violated the values he has preached against for decades. He takes his guilt to heart and suffers mightily. Hester, meanwhile, has come to terms with her sin over time.
What do Dimmesdale and Chillingworth share, other than Hester herself?
Answer: Both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth conceal their relationships to the adulterous act, leaving Hester as the only person to take public responsibility for the affair. They continue to maintain prominent roles in society. Both men are ultimately destroyed by this secrecy as they become entangled in a parasitic relationship.
Does Chillingworth ever forgive Hester?
Answer: Chillingworth seems forgiving of Hester at the outset, and he seems to transfer his rage onto Dimmesdale, whom he pursues relentlessly. Indeed, he seems to understand that he shouldn't have married a woman who would never love him, but Dimmesdale must be punished for allowing Hester to indulge her passion. His sinister acts toward the end of the novel are ameliorated somewhat by his choice to leave his estate to Pearl.