The Scarlet Letter

Essay topics


Choose one of the following essay topics and write a well organized, well supported, and insightful essay.


  1. Discuss Hawthorne ’s use of opposition in The Scarlet Letter. Analyze the relationship between Hester, Dimmesdale, Pearl, and Chillingworth through the foils formed between them. In addition to character foils, discuss Hawthorne ’s use of opposition (i.e. the outer scarlet A vs. the inner A, civilization vs. wilderness). How does Hawthorne ’s use of opposition contribute to the novel as a whole? This is a large topic, so begin with the big picture and then focus in on one area.


  1. Analyze the symbolism of the scarlet letter in Hawthorne’s novel. Discuss how the symbol frames the novel, how the symbol develops throughout the novel, and the impact of the letter on the characters in the novel. Discuss the relationship between Hester’s identity and the scarlet letter. In addition to Hester’s fabric A, be sure to discuss the meteor, Dimmesdale’s mark, and the personified A, Pearl.


  1. Analyze Hawthorne’s presentation of the nature of evil. What is the role of “The Black Man” in the novel? How are the characters impacted by evil? Who is truly evil in the novel? What are the causes of evil? How does the Puritan conception of sin help root out evil or encourage evil? Discuss the intertwining of evil with actual good acts and the hidden evil behind the façade of respectability. Be sure to discuss the roles of Mistress Hibbins, Pearl, Chillingworth, Hester, and Dimmesdale and how each is an embodiment of evil, misconception of evil, opposite of evil, etc.


  1. Analyze Hawthorne’s theme of sin, knowledge and the human condition in The Scarlet Letter. Discuss how sin destroys the lives of Hester and Dimmesdale and, in a sense, how it forces them to improve their lives. How does knowledge, gained after sin, help or harm the characters in the novel? Discuss the Puritan conceptions of sin and the human condition. In the final scenes of the novel, do Dimmesdale’s actions show that all humans have the potential to sin so must we punish sin severely and repress sin, or is sin inherent to human nature so must we reconcile our sinful actions with more righteous actions and strive to live a  better life?


Due Dates

Prewriting: Monday 10/14
Scarlet Letter Essay (draft 1): Friday 10/18
Scarlet Letter Exam: Thursday 10/17
Scarlet Letter Essay (draft 2): Tuesday 10/22
Scarlet Letter Essay (draft 3):