The Scarlet Letter: Essay Questions, Topics, & Prompts

The Scarlett Letter is one of the key works of American literature.

Welcome to our article about The Scarlet Letter. This novel is a masterwork of Nathaniel Hawthorne and one of the most significant works of American literature. It was also the first novel that made an impact this big in Europe.

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Here you’ll find everything you need to write The Scarlet Letter essay:

  • Basic info about the novel
  • Essay ideas and tips
  • 40 The Scarlet Letter essay questions for your assignment.

Let’s get started!

🗝️ The Scarlet Letter: Key Facts

Was written in1849
Was published in1850
Was written byNathaniel Hawthorne
GenreRomance, Historical Novel

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. He was one of the first and most recognized American writers. Hawthorne made a huge impact on fiction and is also well-known for his use of allegory and symbolism.

The Scarlet Letter setting is Boston in the 1600s, which was the Puritan Bay Colony of Massachusetts. Puritan ideas supported strict religious beliefs. During that time, adultery was considered not only a sin but crime. So, those who failed at keeping up with the religious traditions were considered outcasts.

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The Scarlet Letter: Short Summary

The Scarlet Letter tells a story about a woman named Hester. While her husband was away, Hester had an affair and had a baby with another man. The people from their town made her wear a scarlet letter A, which stands for Adulteress, on her clothes for the rest of her life as a punishment for her sin.

Here’s a summary of the main events of The Scarlet Letter:

1. Hester committed adultery with a priest Dimmesdale because her husband was away, and she thought he might have been already dead.

2. She gave birth to a child and named her Pearl.

3. Her husband Chillingworth arrived and decided to hide his identity.

4. Chillingworth was driven by revenge and tried to make Dimmesdale confess his sin by manipulating him.

5. Dimmesdale couldn’t bear his guilt and died after his confession.

6. Chillingworth died as he no longer had a reason to live.

7. Hester left Boston with Pearl and then came back again after many years.

8. Hester continued living in her old house and wearing the scarlet letter for the rest of her life.

📝 The Scarlet Letter: Essay Prompts & Ideas

If you are about to write The Scarlet Letter theme essay, here are some prompts for you!

The Scarlet Letter: Literary Analysis Essay

A literary analysis is a type of academic writing aimed at interpreting a piece of literature. An analytical essay about a literary work is also a kind of an argumentative essay. So, you should not summarize the work or conduct a rhetorical analysis.

To conduct a literary analysis, you need to:

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  1. Study the text;
  2. Break down its themes;
  3. Figure out the reason behind the author’s choices.

To write The Scarlet Letter literary analysis essay, make sure to analyze the language used, the author’s perspective, text structure, and literary devices.

The Scarlet Letter Literary Devices

Writers use literary devices to express ideas and meanings in their works.

The Scarlet Letter literary devices include:

You can analyze them separately but also altogether. If you are about to write about the literary devices in The Scarlet Letter essay, you can analyze how the author used them to express the religious idea in the novel.

Literary devices analysis might be too broad to analyze in an essay paragraph. However, it is a good topic for discussion in a research paper or term paper.

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Irony in The Scarlet Letter

There are three kinds of irony:

  • dramatic,
  • situational,
  • verbal.

The author expresses dramatic irony in The Scarlet Letter through Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth is driven by his revenge and desire to find a man who had an affair with his wife. It turned out that Dimmesdale, who he lived with, was the one.

Situational irony describes unexpected events. For example, when Dimmesdale decided to go on a scaffold to confess his sin. He believed that his confession could set him free and let him be together with Hester and Pearl. However, something unexpected happened. He died after his confession.

Verbal irony is when someone’s words do not match the real meaning behind them. The example is when Dimmesdale asked Hester to reveal who is Pearl’s father in front of everyone because he didn’t have the courage to do so.

Metaphors in The Scarlet Letter

A metaphor is a figure of speech where a word or expression is used to convey some meaning by comparison to something else.

For example, the expression “a black sheep” means a person who is disgracing a family.

Nathaniel Hawthorne used metaphors in The Scarlet Letter to convey his idea about sin, guilt, and purity. For example, in chapter 16, Hawthorne used the metaphor “a Black Man” to express Hester’s sin.

Allusions in The Scarlet Letter

An allusion is a reference to a thing, event, person, etc. It can be both direct and indirect.

Nathaniel Hawthrone used Biblical and historical allusions in The Scarlet Letter. One of the historical allusions refers to Anne Hutchinson, who was mentioned in the first chapter. She was an actual historical figure -a Puritan spiritual leader born in 1591.

One of the Biblical allusions is Pearl, who Nathaniel Hawthorne named after the pearl of great price in the Bible.

The Scarlet Letter Symbolism Essay

Symbolism in literature is a figure of speech to represent an idea through different things.

The picture contains a list of The Scarlet Letter symbols.

If you are about to write The Scarlet Letter symbolism essay, here are some of the main symbols in the novel.

  • The scarlet letter symbolism. The scarlet letter that Hester had to wear was supposed to symbolize her sin. However, the author refers to it as a “mystic symbol.”
  • Red and black symbolism. Hawthorne uses color symbolism too. Red symbolizes passion, while black – sin.
  • Pearl symbolism. Hester’s daughter Pearl also served as a symbol in the novel. In the 19th chapter, the author referred to Pearl as “living hieroglyphic.”

The Scarlet Letter Theme Essay

Themes in literature can be either something that the reader thinks of while reading or the idea conveyed through the literature piece.

The picture contains a list of The Scarlet Letter themes.

The Scarlet Letter has several essential themes:

  • Conformity and Individuality. The town tried to make Hester conform to the religious beliefs. However, Hester remained loyal to her individuality.
  • Sin. Since the story takes place in a Puritan community, it has a lot to do with the sin theme. The novel is centered around Hester’s sin and its consequences.
  • Puritanism. Puritanism is shown as a very narrow-minded and unforgiving culture. Religion plays an essential role in their community, so all their actions are driven by it.

Essay on The Scarlet Letter Setting

Setting can also be The Scarlet Letter essay topic. The Scarlet Letter takes place in the Puritan community in Boston of the 1600s. This setting plays a crucial role in understanding the theme and idea in the novel.

Puritans left England and moved to Plymouth because of their different beliefs. They wanted to organize a community where they could follow their strict religious rules.

Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the setting in a detailed way to show the conflict between nature and society.

Forest as a setting can also be a discussion of The Scarlet Letter essay questions.

Essay on the Conflict in The Scarlet Letter

Conflict in literature is used as another literary device to show a conflict between two opposite believes.

The main conflict in The Scarlet Letter is between Hester and society. The townspeople accused her of her sin and made her an outsider. However, it didn’t break her. Instead, she remained strong and decided to wear the scarlet letter even after returning to the town after many years.

Another conflict is an inner conflict that Dimmesdale had. He suffered from shame, but at the same time, he was too afraid to open up about it.

💡 40 The Scarlet Letter Essay Questions

Here’s our list of 40 The Scarlet Letter Essay Topics. Find something that you would be interested in writing about. And if there is nothing suitable for you in the list, try using our topic generator for more ideas.

  1. How is the conflict of man vs. society depicted in The Scarlet Letter?
  2. What are the literary devices used in The Scarlet Letter?
  3. How does the author use irony in the Scarlet Letter?
  4. How does the introduction of The Scarlet Letter help us understand the historical background?
  5. What are the metaphors in The Scarlet Letter?
  6. What are the allusions in The Scarlet Letter?
  7. What do colors symbolize in The Scarlet Letter?
  8. What does scarlet letter symbolize?
  9. What role does religion play in The Scarlet Letter?
  10. What are the themes in The Scarlet Letter?
  11. How does setting impact the themes in The Scarlet Letter?
  12. What are the main conflicts in The Scarlet Letter?
  13. How does the author use dramatic irony in The Scarlet Letter?
  14. What is situational irony in The Scarlet Letter?
  15. What is the metaphorical meaning behind “a Black Man” in The Scarlet Letter?
  16. How is the verbal irony depicted in The Scarlet Letter?
  17. In what ways does Hester confront society?
  18. What is the Biblical allusion in The Scarlet Letter?
  19. What are the historical allusions in The Scarlet Letter?
  20. How is conformity depicted in The Scarlet Letter?
  21. What does Pearl symbolize in The Scarlet Letter?
  22. What role does personality play in The Scarlet Letter?
  23. How does the author represent the sin theme in The Scarlet Letter?
  24. How does the author portray the Puritanism theme in The Scarlet Letter?
  25. How does the author depict Dimmesdale’s inner conflict?
  26. Why does the author is so detailed about the settings in The Scarlet Letter?
  27. How does the author show the conflict between a man and nature in The Scarlet Letter?
  28. What is the role of Native Americans in The Scarlet Letter?
  29. What is the difference between Hester’s attitude towards society and society’s attitude towards her?
  30. What are the symbols that the author uses in The Scarlet Letter?
  31. How does Dimmesdale punish himself?
  32. What are the similarities between Dimmesdale and Chillingworth?
  33. Why did Chillingworth forgive Hester in The Scarlet Letter?
  34. How does the author portray Chillingworth’s obsession with revenge?
  35. In what ways is The Scarlet Letter a feminist novel?
  36. Why did Chillingworth decide to hide his identity?
  37. Why did the author incorporate a hundred-year-old manuscript in The Scarlet Letter?
  38. How is American History connected to The Scarlet Letter?
  39. Why is Pearl both a blessing and a curse to Hester?
  40. What is the difference in punishments for men and women in the Puritan community?
  41. What are Chillingworth’s ideas of revenge?

Do you have any other ideas for The Scarlet Letter essay title? What questions and answers would you discuss in your thesis? Let us know what you think about our The Scarlet Letter essay prompts in the comments below!

❓ The Scarlet Letter Essay: FAQ

Where does The Scarlet Letter take place?

The Scarlet Letter takes place in the Puritan Bay Colony of Massachusetts in Boston of the 1600s. Puritans supported extreme religious beliefs and social morals. It led to many punishments for the ones who failed to follow the Puritan ideas.

How many chapters are in The Scarlet Letter?

The Scarlet Letter has 24 chapters.

What does The Scarlet Letter symbolize?

The Scarlet Letter symbolizes a stigma that lets everyone know Hester’s sin. Although it was supposed to be a sign of shame, it became an identification of Hester’s power instead. She was not ashamed of it and even proceeded to wear the scarlet letter after coming back to the town after many years.

When was The Scarlet Letter published?

The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

🔗 References

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