Created by: Maegan Clawges, Mary Kayler, Benjamin May, and Alana Gerlach
The Puritans were right to fear evil, but in their attempts to destroy it, they bred it. Sin is not a contamination but, at least in Hester’s case, a response to hurt, loneliness, selfishness and hatred of others. Evil is not a singular event, but a long, intricate and heavy chain of small wrongs. The obvious sin is not always the actual evil.

Introduction: The Custom House

“‘A writer of story-books! What kind of a business in life,—what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation,—may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!’”- Hawthorne 276

This quote relates to Puritan New England society in which Hester lives. Doomed to wear a symbol of shame for life, Hester is often the subject of public scorn. The townspeople are very judgmental, and can find something wrong in everyone. It seems as if Nathaniel Hawthorne understands Hester’s shame, if only to a mild extent. By choosing to be an author, rather than choosing a career more honorable and “productive”, he is scorned by members of the community. Even today, many people are picked apart by society, whether it is for choice of career, clothing, lifestyle, or even something one cannot control, such as family history or their outward appearance.

“I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem my home”- Hawthorne 277.

In this section of “The Custom House” the narrator describes his reasons for living in his hometown for his whole life. Claming that there is a connection between one and his birthplace, he vows to never move away from Salem. His feelings link to Hester’s reasons to stay in her hometown, Boston Massachusetts. Life would be much easier for her if she moved to a new location, away from the haunting stigma associated with her local reputation. Nothing is keeping Hester from relocating, yet she chooses to stay. Like the narrator of “The Custom House” she feels a sense of destiny linking her to her place of residence. Hester believes that she should stay in the place of her punishment, and that her life there will cleanse her, and be an act of “martyrdom.” Further interpretation of her actions leads one to believe that by staying and dealing with public humiliation, rather than fleeing, gives her a sense of pride, dignity, and self-determination. It seems likely that Hester will continue residing in Boston for the entirety of her life.
I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs” –Hawthorne 303.Throughout the narrator’s experience at the Custom House, he finds many of his fellow workers to be corrupt and uninspiring men. Though he aspires to be an author, he finds that he cannot write in an environment that oppresses his creativity. The narrator’s situation relates to the lives of many students. Personally, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to go to school, yet I sometimes feel uninspired by my circumstances. The daily routine gets old, and doing what someone else tells you to do all the time seems to oppress freethinking. I have met many teachers similar to the workers of the custom house: bland, corrupt, and uninspiring (although some are very good). A popular concern with today’s school system is that it teaches to the test. Students learn how to be good test takers; yet do not know how to further apply their knowledge. Like the narrator, I have become a good student, but nothing else.

Chapter 1: The Prison Door

The first chapter is entitled "The Prison Door." The title holds a great connection with the symbolism of the scarlet letter. Like a prison door shutting, Hester's sentence is very final. She is ordered to wear the letter for life. As a prison door blocks its inhabitant from freedom, the scarlet letter imprisons Hester, keeping her from ever existing as a normal member of society. A prison door also embodies a sense of shame and helplessness: the desired effect of the scarlet letter.

Chapter 2: The Market Place

Does Anybody Hear Her?

Casting Crowns

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

She is trying
But the canyon's ever widening

In the depths of her cold heart
So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She's another two years older
And she's three more steps behind

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people

Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

She is yearning
For shelter and affection
That she never found at home

She is searching
For a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day
And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say

Momentary lapse of reason
And she gives herself away

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can't see past her scarlet letter

And we've never even met her

Does anybody hear her? Does anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me

He is running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

The song "Does Anybody Hear Her?" by Casting Crowns embodies the women who gossip about Hester before she is led out of the prison. The song describes a broken person who is rejected and scorned by society. The first line states "she is running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction." The line links to the women's derogatory comments about Hester's actions. Another line refers to the character’s "cold heart." The chorus includes a meaningful line about "the lost and lonely people" who can't find hope "under the shadow of our steeple." The line embodies the hypocrisy of the gossiping church people, as they pick apart a person who really needs love and hope. The second verse declares that the girl "is yearning for shelter and affection that she never found at home" and after a "momentary lapse of reason... she gives herself away." This quote connects to the assumption that Hester is lonely. Her husband is gone, and it is easy for her to submit to committing adultery. But as the chorus implies, no one hears her side of the story. The women continue to gossip with no regret. The bridge of the song describes a church in which "judgment looms under every steeple." It even mentions the phrase "scarlet letter," that "lofty glances" from lofty church members use to judge her character. The final line of the song changes the subject to another character, implying that "he is running a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction." The change of subject, yet the continuity of the action, links to the assumption that the gossiping women will always find a new subject to prey on that was not lived up to their standards of perfection.

Chapter 3: The Recognition

Three interpretations of “The Recognition.”
1. Hester recognizes her husband, “Roger Chillingworth” in the crowd while she is on the scaffold.
2. Chllingworth arrives in town and finds his wife, Hester on a scaffold and he learns that Hester has committed adultery
3. Chillingworth realizes that he was stupid to let Hester go to America on her own because he knew that he could not keep Hester happy when she was apart from him.

Chapter 6: Pearl

scan0015.jpgThe black soil represents Pearls being born into the world through sinful soil. The rose grows out of the sinful soil through the scarlet letter "A" which shows that Pearl is the result of Hester's sin of adultery. The sun represents Pearl receiving he "own sunshine" which helps her grow out of her mother's sinful life.

Chapter 7: The Governor's Hall

Hester does not want her daughter Pearl to be characterized by her sin and Hester tells Pearl, “thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee.” Hester has no “sunshine” for Pearl because of her act of adultery which has shrouded her life with darkness and cast her out of society. Because Hester does not want Pearl to have the same life troubles she does, Hester urges Pearl to“gather thine own sunshine.” Pearl needs help from the sun to shine on her life and help her grow away from her mother’s sinful life just as clinically depressed people need help from medicine and counselors to emerge from their depressed lives. The sun acts as Pearl’s counselor that will help her put a light in her life which is what depressed people strive to do through counseling.

Chapter 8: The Elf-Child and the Minister

In our opinion Hester is a good mother. She sets a good example for Pearl of not letting other people determine what she believes. She refuses to confess that she sinned because she was not in love with Chillingworth, she was trapped with him. Her disloyalty was to a captor not a husband. Of course the Puritans don’t like people that think freely, but we think it is an important quality to instill in children. Also she is not afraid to be independent and self-sufficient; she is smart enough to deal with those who try to put her in her “rightful” place. Intelligence and independence are two other qualities that we think are crucial to model for children because they are essential to prosperity and freedom.

Chapters 9/10: The Leech/The Leech and His Patient

Peter Parker (Spiderman), Harry Osborne, and Mary Jane Watson represent Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, Doctor Roger Chillingworth, and Hester Prynne. Until Harry Osborne finds out that Peter Parker is Spiderman they are close friends just as Chillingworth and Dimmesdale are until Chillingworth realizes that Dimmesdale is the man his wife betrayed him with by committing adultery. Then, Harry Osborne plots his revenge against his former best friend, just as Chilligworth plots to slowly ruin Dimmesdale. The character Mary Jane comes into play as the former lover of Harry, but current lover of Peter Parker. This relationship is similar to Hester's relationship with her former husband Chillingworth, and current love interest Dimmesdale. Both women in each story are kept from the man they truly love because he is more obsessed with his inner struggles. Spiderman is fighting against his darker side, while Dimmesdale is fighting the remorse and guilt that is plaguing his soul.

Chapter 11: The Interior of a Heart

"To the untrue man, the whole universe is false - it is palpable - it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist."

Amy Winehouse released her song "Rehab" on October 23, 2006 with lyrics stating - "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no' Yes I've been black but when I come back you'll know know know I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine He's tried to make me go to rehab but I won't go go go." In August the following year, she ended up in rehab. Winehouse's situation relates to the quote, because she was not being true to herself. Her song claims she would never agree to rehab, yet she eventually consented to go. The quote suggests that if one is not honest with his or her self, a person becomes a lesser version of his or her former self. Winehouse portrayed herself in a false light, and may never be trusted by her fans again. To many, her old self has ceased to exist because of her hypocrisy.

Chapter 13: Another View of Hester

She was strange from the start,an independent mind and able body, her husband sent her ahead. And that filled us with dread. She was an out-of-place thread in our tightly woven society, suggesting a different order, attitude, lifestyle… We fear, what if other women followed her instead?
Then He revealed her fault, a sin hidden deep inside her, growing like gold in a vault. Once exposed we could not exalt this breach of conduct. Our rules make us superior any weakness we must halt all that we’ve worked for, achieved, self-denied… A threat, Our social order under assault.
We made an example of Hester. We had no choice, that sin could not fester. But she would not reveal throughout each trimester, her accomplice, her fellow sinner. She was no Esther… We imprisoned her devilish joy underneath a scarlet letter.
We helped her excel put in her rightful place, we all feel better as well her beautiful stitches could only mean well Now from what we can tell, She’s just a Puritan shell, modest, reserved… We no longer fear,
she’s just a contributor to society.

CHAPTERS 14-17(Extra Credit): Hester and the Physician-The Pastor and His Parishioner

Chapter 18: A Flood of Sunshine

The minister has changed in the reader’s eyes because for the first time he is not just another stigma of shame to Hester, but her lover, and Pearl’s father. He is referred to as “Arthur Dimmesdale” instead of “Dimmesdale” because the reader connects with him on a first name basis now. Just as in society today, there are certain points where you must call someone “mister” or “misses” to be polite, but when that person is part of your family, or a close friend, it is no longer necessary. All of the formal restraints around Dimmesdale the Reverend have been pulled away to reveal Dimmesdale, the person. He has transformed from a character to marvel at, possibly look at in disgust, to a character with whom the reader can connect with and feel sympathy for.

Extra Credit Chapters

Chapter 19: The Child at the Brookside


Chapter 23: The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter

A musical interpretation of the chapter. This song represents the events of the chapter including Dimmesdale's sermon, Dimmesdale calling to Hester and Pearl, his confession and the revealing of his Scarlet Letter, Pearl kissing him, Hester's goodbyes, and finally Dimmesdale's death.
Out of Africa - Main Title

Final Assignment:

- In Puritan society, women were less valued and seen as more wicked due to prejudices and superstitions of witchcraft that were popular at the time. Females were seen as devilish if they did anything beyond their normal domestic duties and were not meant to stand out in such a society. Pearl’s beauty and outgoing personality are seen as definite signs that she is the result of something evil, her mother. Hawthorne had Hester raise a daughter primarily because the daughter is meant to be seen as a miniature model of her mother, someone not to be valued or trusted. If Hester had raised a son it would have been less likely for the townspeople to make such a direct connection to his mother, and his outgoing and witty manor would have been valued, rather than feared.
- Chillingworth committed the biggest sin of all by not truly loving Hester, asking forgiveness or showing remorse, or forgiving those who did him wrong. Hawthorne recognized Chillingworth as the greatest sinner of all by consistently referring to his inherent evil nature. “In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil” (Hawthorne 122). In regard to Hester, Hawthorne also recognized that when a man does not “win along with (a woman’s hand) the utmost passion of her heart. . . It may be their miserable fortune” (Hawthorne 130). In other words, Chillingworth was completely at fault not only for his own sin, but that of Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s and the punishments they bore with those sins. In addition to being the bearer of such evilness upon the world, he not once showed signs of remorse or tried to repent; repentance being of the utmost importance in Puritan society and most religious institutions today.

The Shawshank Redemption (Extra Credit)

“A beautiful woman and her lover lying dead in each other’s arms. They had sinned, but was their crime so great as to merit a death sentence?” –Lawyer in Shawshank Redemption

This quote from the trial of the main character addresses one of the main issues of the Scarlet Letter...adultery. The main character is convicted and imprisoned for murdering his wife and her lover. This is ironic in comparison to the Scarlet Letter because Puritan society would have put the couple to death for adultery; killing them would have been the natural reaction, not something to spend a life in prison for.
We also saw a connection between the mark of shame left by jail and that of the scarlet letter. When they are finally released, the ex-convicts struggle to fit into a friendless and unfamiliar world, just as Hester does after she is convicted of adultery. The mark the ex-convicts carry may not be visible to everyone, but they seem to feel a huge gulf between themselves and the general public. Hester's alienation is mainly because of how people react to her scarlet letter but she still battles the same separation and isolation.
Another issue both stories examine is the idea of a society's acceptance/disregard of wrongdoing under special circumstances. Mistress Hibbins is a witch in a Puritan society, but because she lives with the governor, the general public accept her as their own. This is comparable to the prison guards in the Shawshank Redemption who beat prisoners, sometimes to death, but are never scolded or punished. Many of the prisoners are convicted murders, but they are being guarded by murderers too, they just had enough sense to get a job where it was legal to murder.