The Scarlet Letter
Chapter 11-24 Study Guide
1. Explain the statement, “He [Chillingworth] became, thenceforth, not a spectator only,
but a chief actor, in the poor minister’s interior world.”
2. What is ironic about Dimmesdale’s incredible success as a minister?
3. Why are Dimmesdale’s public assertions of guilt ironic?
4. Explain the ways that Dimmesdale tortures himself.
5. Comparing Dimmesdale’s current struggle with his sin with Hawthorne’s earlier
treatment of Hester and her sin, what is Hawthorne suggesting about the effects of sin?
6. What is ironic about Hawthorne’s portrayal of the Puritan society, in terms of this
1. How is the episode of Dimmesdale’s midnight vigil on the scaffold structurally
2. What is the significance of Pearl’s challenge to Dimmesdale?
3. Considering the role of Nature in Anti-Transcendental literature, what is the
significance of the meteor event?
4. Although Governor Winthrop is merely mentioned in the book, why would Hawthorne
choose this night as the night Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and
5. How does Dimmesdale feel as he holds Pearl’s hand and why?
6. Why does Pearl pull away from Dimmesdale?
7. What effect does Dimmesdale’s vigil have on his career?
8. Explain the symbolic meaning of the interaction between Dimmesdale and Chillingworth at the end of the novel.
1. What is significant about Hester’s position in the community now that years have
2. Compare the feelings of the general public to those of the community leaders regarding
Hester Prynne. Explain why the groups view her differently.
3. What social and philosophical changes is Hawthorne describing in this chapter?
4. Explain the statement: “It is remarkable, that persons who speculate the most boldly
often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society.
The thought suffices them….”
5. Compare the initial intent behind the scarlet letter to the actual effect on Hester.
1. Notice that Chillingworth is called a “leech” in the chapters in which he interacts with
Dimmesdale, but a “physician” in this interaction with Hester. Considering the
definition of “leech,” what do you suppose is Hawthorne’s point in using these two
2. What is Hester’s response to the announcement that the Council had debated allowing
her to remove her scarlet letter?
3. Look again at what you found out about the Anti-Transcendentalists. Why isn’t
forgiveness an option?
4. How is the doctrine of predestination reflected in this conversation between Hester
1. What is Hester coming to realize is the true sin she has committed? Why would
Hawthorne consider this a worse sin than her sin with Dimmesdale?
2. What does Hester realize about her “repentance”?
3. Why does Hester hate Chillingworth?
4. Hester refuses to answer Pearl’s question about the meaning of the “A.” Why does
Hester not confide in Pearl?
5. Why does Hawthorne portray Pearl as such a wild child?
6. How have Hester’s conversations with Chillingworth and Pearl changed her attitude
toward herself and her sin?
1. Explain the significance of the sunlight imagery.
2. When Hester determines to warn Dimmesdale about Chillingworth, why does the
meeting take place in the forest?
3. Explain the probable allusion in the line “the minister and she would need the whole
wide world to breathe in.”
4. What positive significance does the forest begin to take on?
5. What negative significance does the forest begin to assume?
6. In what way does Hester acknowledge her sin to Pearl?
1. How is Hawthorne advancing his theme of the difference between revealed and
2. Explain the distinction Dimmesdale makes between penance and penitence.
3. What do we learn is the emotional connection between Hester and Dimmesdale? Why
is this significant to the developing theme of the book?
4. Do you believe Hester is to blame for Dimmesdale’s suffering during the past seven
years? Why or why not?
5. What theme about the nature of sin finally begins to emerge in Hester and
6. Here is a key question for Hawthorne and the Anti-Transcendentalists: can a “polluted
soul” do good for others?
7. Who are the heartless people with laws of iron to whom Hester refers?
8. This chapter ends on an optimistic note. What is the source of the optimism?
1. What contrast does the narrator point out between Hester and Dimmesdale’s ability to
2. Why does Dimmesdale decide to flee with Hester?
3. What is significant about the title of this chapter?
4. How does Hawthorne reinforce his idea that nature is sympathetic with the union of
Hester and Dimmesdale?
5. Why would children dislike Dimmesdale?
1. Beyond Hester’s explanation, why won’t Pearl come to Hester without the scarlet letter?
2. What is significant about the fact that Pearl will not bring her the scarlet letter, but
makes her pick it up for herself?
3. Why won’t Pearl show any affection to Dimmesdale? Why does she want him to walk
with them hand-in-hand in the marketplace?
4. This chapter begins on the same optimistic note that ends the previous chapter. On
what kind of note does the chapter end? Why?
1. What would account for Dimmesdale’s sudden change?
2. In terms of Hawthorne’s theme contrasting hidden sin versus revealed sin, how can you
explain Dimmesdale’s change in this chapter?
3. Why is the chapter called “The Minister in a Maze”?
1. Compare these first-generation New Englanders with their recent English ancestors
and with their future New England descendents.
2. What distressing news does Hester receive from the ship captain?
3. In addition to providing more information, what other purpose does this chapter
1. What is Hawthorne’s point about the governors’ ability to govern? Does he seem to
find fault with them? Why or why not?
2. What is the source of Dimmesdale’s apparent new strength?
3. What does Pearl want from Dimmesdale?
4. Explain the remarks, “The sainted minister in the church! The woman of the scarlet
letter in the market-place!”
5. What is Mistress Hibbins saying about the people of Salem Village?
6. What clues has Hawthorne offered his reader to prepare him or her for the revelation
of the scarlet letter on his chest?
1. Many critics believe the novel is structured around the three scaffold scenes: the ones
in Chapters 2 and 12, and this one. Explain how each fits into the typical plot scheme
of conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.
2. Why does Dimmesdale stand “on the very proudest eminence of superiority” before
3. What does Chillingworth mean when he says, “There was no one place…where thou
couldst have escaped me—save on this very scaffold!”
4. In what way is Dimmesdale’s sin worse than Hester’s? Of Hester, Chillingworth, and
Dimmesdale, whose sin is the worst? Why?
5. What accounts for the change in Pearl?
1. What theories are given about the scarlet letter imprinted in the minister’s flesh?
2. Why does Hawthorne leave the origin of Dimmesdale’s mark ambiguous?
3. What happens to Chillingworth? What does he give Pearl?
4. What becomes of Pearl?
5. Why do you suppose Hester returns to Salem? What might be Hawthorne’s point about
sin, repentance, and redemption?
6. Why would Hawthorne allow the story to end with Hester and Dimmesdale being
remembered so ignominiously?