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The Scarlet Letter
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Scarlet Letter is a classic American novel that deals with adultery, sin, religion, and redemption. Hawthorne's prose is dense with irony and symbolism, but readers who persevere will be rewarded by his subtle humor and acute understanding of human foibles.
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What's the story?
Set in the mid-1600s in a Puritan village near Boston, MA, THE SCARLET LETTER chronicles the spiritual journey of Hester Prynne, a married woman who becomes a social outcast when she conceives a child out of wedlock during her husband's long absence. Forced by the outraged townspeople to wear a vivid letter \"A\" for adultery on the breast of her gown, Hester refuses to name her daughter's father and accepts a life set apart from nearly everyone she knows. Only the intervention of the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale keeps Hester and her impish daughter Pearl together. When Hester's missing husband secretly returns, posing as a doctor and calling himself Roger Chillingworth, the stage is set for a tumultuous story of sin, tragedy, and redemption.
Is it any good?
Hawthorne's prose can seem complicated and stilted to modern ears, but a careful reading reveals his delicious use of irony and symbolism to make his points about American morality and hypocrisy. Written in the mid-1800s, The Scarlet Letter is one of the most acclaimed early America novels and is frequently assigned in upper-level high school and entry-level college English Literature classes. It examines issues of sin and redemption and paints a vivid portrait of Puritan life in the mid-1600s.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how views about adultery and children born out of wedlock have changed over time.
What is it about Hester's attitude regarding her affair that so angers her fellow townspeople? Why doesn't the father of the child come forward?
Young Pearl is regarded by some of the villagers as a kind of demon-child. Does her behavior in the book strike you as normal for a child her age? Do you believe that the sins of a father or mother can be passed along to a child?
The Scarlet Letter is noted for Hawthorne's use of symbols. How is the letter "A" used as a symbol? What does it mean in different contexts?
This novel is considered a classic and is often required reading in school. Why do you think that is?
Themes & Topics
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