An American classic and Nathaniel Hawthorne's most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter offers a powerful examination of human nature and the relationship between sin and redemption.

While The Scarlet Letter may seem dated to some of your students, you can demonstrate how it deals with matters that are relevant by discussing how many young adults are still publicly shamed for their sexuality. Students may also connect with the plight of the strong female protagonist, Hester Prynne, who maintains her dignity when faced with adversity.

Before your class begins reading, consider providing a short lesson on the Romantic literary movement. Learning more about this style of writing will help contextualize many of the themes and symbolism present within The Scarlet Letter, including the power of individuality and the freedom found in nature. Your class can also discuss the psychologies of the main characters and how each personally deals with guilt and punishment.

Because of its advanced vocabulary and complex sentences, some students may find The Scarlet Letter to be a challenging read. Encourage your class to read the novel closely and highlight and define words they do not understand. It may be helpful to take a few minutes each lesson to discuss the previous day's reading and explain any difficult words or confusing passages.

Discover more details about The Scarlet Letter below.

Summary of The Scarlet Letter

Key Facts

The story opens in a Puritan settlement in Massachusetts, where Hester Prynne exits a prison with her baby and a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as punishment for adultery. A man called Roger Chillingworth watches and secretly reveals himself to Hester as her missing husband. For years, Hester and her daughter, Pearl, live outside the community while Chillingworth moves in with the local minister, Reverend Dimmesdale.

Eventually, Chillingworth discovers that Dimmesdale was Hester's lover and torments him until he confesses his affair. Shortly after, Chillingworth dies and leaves money to Pearl. Hester and Pearl move to England, but years later, Hester returns, still wearing the scarlet letter.

Content Warning: The Scarlet Letter deals with the subject of adultery.

What Your Students Will Love About The Scarlet Letter

  • Hester Prynne, the protagonist who turns a symbol of shame completely on its head
  • Hawthorne’s character-driven exploration of the relationship between sin and guilt

Potential Student Struggles With The Scarlet Letter

  • The long, complicated sentences and lengthy descriptions
  • The archaic language

Learning Objectives for The Scarlet Letter

  • Comment on the Puritan setting of the novel and discuss features of the Puritan community.
  • Explain how the story has relevance for modern readers as a psychological story about sin and consequences and as a morality story about sin and redemption.
  • Discuss Hawthorne's writing as part of the Romantic tradition.
  • Identify and analyze the symbols in the novel and how they are developed.
  • Expound authentic elements of the novel, such as historical figures, events, and setting.
  • Consider the significance of the novel’s title.

Literary Elements in The Scarlet Letter

  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Metaphor
  • Naturalism
  • Personification
  • Protagonist
  • Romanticism
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Scarlet Letter

Individual and Society — When people are forced to adhere to society's rules, they are likely to rebel with unintended consequences, as both Hester and Dimmesdale did.

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Guilt — In Hester’s Puritan community, guilt is heavily induced upon an individual who has sinned; they must suffer the consequences of their actions.

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Alienation — The scarlet letter "A" that Hester has pinned to her shirt is meant to be a sign of shame and her removal from the community as a form of punishment.

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Other Resources for The Scarlet Letter

Order The Scarlet Letter Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Scarlet Letter Paperback Student Edition
The Scarlet Letter Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Scarlet Letter AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Scarlet Letter Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Scarlet Letter Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Scarlet Letter Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Scarlet Letter Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in July 2017. It has been updated as of June 2019.