I. Comprehension Questions
1. What is the “powerful and peculiar effect” of the scarlet letter on Hester? Hester became hard. She used to be beautiful but now she was plain and all the light and joy and womanly features were gone. Her hair never saw the sun because it was hidden under her And there was nothing pretty and Hester’s face or her body. If you go through hard times you start to look hard.
2. What about Hester’s situation allows her to “imbibe the spirit” of freedom and rebellion? She thought of going to Europe of leaving everyone else behind and living her own life how she wanted to with no shame. She was allowed to live a life without people being in her business because people completely ignored her for seven years. No one interfered with their public or private life and she got to think our own thoughts
3. What does the narrator suggest Hester might have done with her life if Pearl had not been born? Hester may have started her own religion like Ann Hutchinson. She may have become a prophet. Or maybe church leaders would have killed her for not following the Puritan rules and she would have been executed.
4. Why does Hester wonder if it “were for ill or good that the poor little creature [Pearl] had been born at all”? Perl is so strange and she has a perverse nature because she was conceived in her mother’s lawless passions. Hester believes that her situation is hopeless. Women can never have a fair position in society. That even if all the barriers are lifted in society women can take advantage of it unless they undergo a change in themselves.
II. Critical Thinking Questions.
The third-to-the-last paragraph is pretty radical. Reread it a couple of times to come to a better understanding of the ideas. Here are some questions to help you with that process:
a. Why does Hester wonder if “existence was worth accepting, even to the happiest [woman]”? Hester believes that her situation is hopeless. Women can never have a fair position in society. That even if all the barriers are lifted in society women can take advantage of it unless they undergo a change in themselves.
b. What makes up the “system of society”? How do people perpetuate and reinforce the “system of society”? It’s helpful here to think of present-day examples. The system of society is what is normally acceptable in our society we tried to think of women as equals that we fail all the time. Women who make less money than men and in the United States it is better than it is in many other countries but women still make less than men for doing the same job. It is the system of society. It keeps going generation after generation because no one really changes it. In United States is better than in other places in many countries women can’t vote or drive like in Saudi Arabia.
c. What does the narrator mean by the “long hereditary habit, which has become like nature”? Think of some examples of “hereditary habits” of men and women that have become “like nature.” Because women are smaller many people think they are not capable of hunting or carrying heavy loads. It’s not true there are plenty of women stronger than I am. long hereditary habit means that it’s been going on for generations. If for many generations you heard that women couldn’t fight in wars or lift heavy objects you would start to believe it but when tings change it’s harder to convince some people because they like it to be the same way it’s always been because it’s easier. Habits take a long time to change forceful people have to want to change as well. Women now fight in wars and plenty of women can lift heavy objects and do the hunting and other things that it was thought that only men could do a long time ago.
d. What do you think a “fair and suitable position” would be? Do you think women today occupy a “fair and suitable position” in society? In the United States I would say women have it better than any place else in the world. Although women make less money than men I believe they actually have war opportunities than men these days. I am a middle-class white male. A woman would get a job I had of me because companies are supposed to hire more women. So I believe women are in a fair and suitable position in society today. It wasn’t always like this in the last generation things have gotten a lot better. There is a club at school called girls who code and I would love to join that club but I’m a man so I’m not allowed. Pretty soon it will be white males that will be behind in society and then there will be a white boys who code club 20 years from now and maybe my children can join that.
e. The narrator says, “woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms, until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change…” Explain what this means. Women have to want to change as well. If society changes but you haven’t decided to change with it then nothing will change. No one can tell you that you have equal rights if you don’t choose to use your equal rights. Some people are too afraid to change anything. Because with equal rights comes equal responsibilities. Some people are too fearful and scared to get what society tells them they’re able to get because they are too frightened to try something new. Even if it’s harder on you it’s sometimes easier on your mind because you are you know how to do something so trying something new and having more responsibilities can be frightening.
f. What the heck is “ethereal essence”? I believe it means your soul. It is nothing you can touch or feel it is what you are made of on the inside and only you can control it nobody else can. I found the quote from the book that talks about how she can’t change until she changes herself on the inside.
”Finally, all other difficulties being obviated, woman cannot take advantage of these preliminary reforms, until she herself shall have undergone a still mightier change; in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she has her truest life, will be found to have evaporated.
g. Finally, we read that “the scarlet letter had not done its office.” Explain how and why it has not done what it was supposed to do. The scarlet letter on Hester’s chest did not do what it was supposed to do because now people read the letter and think it means able. Hester is considered a helpful and highest person in the Puritan society and a letter was posted shame her for all of her days. Because she didn’t complain and only try to help people the letter didn’t do its job because people forgot the meaning of the letter and then gave it new meaning as Hester the able the able-bodied helper that would do anything for anybody without complaint.