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The Scarlet Letter: Teaching Ideas and Review

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

The Scarlet Letter is better suited for college reading. That didn't stop my 10th grade teacher from teaching it to me; nor did it stop her from affixing a giant scarlet 'F' on my paper. I foolishly tried teaching it one year. It was a miserable experience.

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    Brief Summary of The Scarlet Letter

    For those who understand the novel, a rating of four or five stars is a must. For those who do not understand the novel, this brief summary of The Scarlet Letter will have to suffice.

    Hester Prynne has committed adultery. The town's elders affix a scarlet 'A' on her clothing and force her to withstand public humiliation in the marketplace for three hours as punishment. She must wear the letter the remainder of her days. Her only companionship is her daughter Pearl.

    As she stands on the scaffold after exiting prison, she spots her husband, unseen for several years, toward the back. He visits her in her cell, asks for the name of Hester's lover, whom she will not divulge, and vows to find out himself. Hester promises not to reveal her husband's identity.

    It does not take long for Roger Chillingworth to discover the other criminal, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, involved in the adulterous act. Chillingworth becomes Dimmesdale's physician and exacts his revenge.

    For more than a brief summary of The Scarlet Letter, check out chapter summaries of The Scarlet Letter.

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    The Scarlet Letter Analysis

    If students can get beyond the fact that there are no explosions, explicit sex, or swear words, they must admit the novel contains literary merit. A Scarlet Letter analysis should incorporate the following literary devices.

    1. Symbolism - Even the dumbest of students will recognize symbolism in the novel. For a more in depth treatment of Scarlet Letter symbolism, check out this scarlet letter analysis.
    2. Irony - The reader knows by chapter 8 the identity of Hester's lover. The townspeople don't find out until chapter 23. This should make all readers feel smart. Verbal irony abounds as Dimmesdale preaches and Hester pleads her cause to him in the governor's mansion. Situational irony includes Hester's punishment becoming a symbol of strength and the fact that the town's religious icon is an unrepentant adulterer.
    3. Characterization - Hawthorne examines Hester's, Dimmesdale's, and Chillingworth's mind and creates three dynamic characters.
    4. American Romanticism - The novel includes supernatural intervention and the triumph of the individual. Any Scarlet Letter analysis should include a look at the literary period in which it was written.
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    The Scarlet Letter Lesson Plans: Teachability

    The Scarlet Letter is one of my favorite novels. I hated it in high school. Hawthorne's style is too complex even for honors students. If you persist on teaching it, here are some Scarlet Letter lesson plans (that could will get you fired).

    1. Do some investigative work and find out if any teachers at your school are guilty of adultery. Award 100 points to the student who successfully pins a scarlet 'A' on his or her chest.
    2. Instruct students who have parents that may be guilty of adultery to do the same.
    3. If you have committed adultery, hold a contest on who can make the most creative 'A' to pin on your chest.
    4. Force any student who is failing your class to wear a scarlet 'F.'
    5. If you wish to modernize, make them wear a dunce cap.
    6. Build Puritan stocks. Kidnap students from the Deans office and hold them up for public humiliation during lunch.
    7. Round up all the pregnant girls at your school and tattoo a scarlet 'A' on their forehead.
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    The Scarlet Letter Lesson Plans: Write a Review

    This Scarlet Letter Book Review is part of my Scarlet Letter lesson plans, one of the few that worked well. Have each student do the following after reading the book:

    1. Write a brief summary of The Scarlet Letter, 100-200 words.
    2. Write a brief Scarlet Letter analysis, extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
    3. List teaching ideas for the novel, 3-4 ideas in a bulleted list.
    4. Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.

    Feel free to use this Scarlet Letter study guide to refresh your memory or to help students "review" what they read. For an overview of American Romanticism, check out these notes.