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The Letter A In The Scarlet Letter Essay Ideas

If you’re anything like me, you probably read through The Scarlet Letter the first time and wondered how on earth colonial Puritans could possibly be relevant to your life today.

Well … that’s the beauty of literature. Even though a story may be set in a time period you cannot relate to, the idea behind it can be timeless.

Analyses of themes are important because they can make a story like The Scarlet Letter relatable even though you don’t live in a Puritan village.

So how do you identify the themes in The Scarlet Letter, and which one do you choose to write about? A theme is defined as the main idea of a story. There can, of course, be more than one theme. This is definitely the case in The Scarlet Letter.

Some themes will be more obvious to you than others, so choose a theme that you can support with plenty of evidence from the text.

Let’s get into it, shall we? I’ll give you a few themes you can use as examples for your own essay. I’ll also show you an example thesis statement, so you can create an A-worthy opening for your essay.

4 Themes in The Scarlet Letter

Themes in The Scarlet Letter #1: Identity

Different themes in The Scarlet Letter apply to different characters, and the theme of identity is most applicable to Hester. From the beginning of the book, the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony determine Hester’s identity for her.

She’s publicly shamed and forced to wear an A on her clothing, so everyone knows her as the adulteress. But she’s a much more complex character than that. As the story continues, she begins to form her own identity.

Hester is a mother and an independent, strong woman. Perhaps because she is isolated from the rest of society, she takes her identity as a mother very seriously. After some time, she starts interacting with the community again.

She helps the poor and tries to be a good person, despite what society may think of her. As she develops her own identity, the symbolism of the A changes from a mark of sin to one of self-empowerment.

So what do you do with this information? First, study the text and get evidence from the book to back up these claims. Then figure out what your thesis statement is going to be.

Mine might look something like this:

The theme of identity is pervasive throughout The Scarlet Letter as Hester Prynne sheds the identity society has given her and, through good deeds and motherhood, creates a new one for herself.

Themes in The Scarlet Letter #2: Sin

The Puritans were a pretty intense group of Christians. They didn’t believe in music or dancing, and they were especially cruel to sinners—even though everyone sins. Sin as a theme asks the question, “What does sinning really mean?”

The story opens with Hester being publicly shamed for committing adultery. And while the Puritans view all sins as being equally bad, The Scarlet Letter puts forth a different notion.

Instead of acknowledging Hester’s very public sin (adultery, which the whole town knows about), the story delves into the private sins of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale.

Suspecting the Reverend Dimmesdale of being Pearl’s father, Chillingworth plots against him. Instead of revealing what he knows, Chillingworth lives with Dimmesdale and torments him.

But don’t feel too badly for Dimmesdale—he suffers a huge sin of his own. He’s a hypocrite (and we’ll get more into this in a second). He publicly shames Hester even though he’s the “other man.” Dimmesdale earns the respect of the public by denying his own sin while condemning Hester’s.

In the end (spoiler alert), both Chillingworth and Dimmesdale die— showing the reader that their sins were the ones deserving death sentences, not Hester’s act of adultery.

For a thesis statement, I might write the following:

In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne explores the theme of sin in Hester Prynne, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. Although it seems at first that Hester has committed a serious sin—adultery—it is Dimmesdale and Chillingworth who are the true sinners as they are consumed by the sins they commit.

Themes in The Scarlet Letter #3: Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy in The Scarlet Letter is shown through Dimmesdale. You kind of root for him because he’s a much nicer guy than Chillingworth, but he’s living a lie. As the leader of a church, he should know better. The Scarlet Letter shows just how dangerous living a lie can be.

The entire community respects Dimmesdale—he’s a great orator, and he helps people when they’re in trouble. He condemns Hester for her adultery because it is what is expected of him, but he also shows her some compassion. After all, she is his lover.

But while Hester is treated as an outcast, Dimmesdale is praised as an honorable guy—even though they participated in the same sin. Doesn’t sound very fair, does it?

Eventually, Dimmesdale’s hypocrisy eats him up inside. He feels guilty about it, and an A appears on his chest as a physical representation of his sin.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite and tell you how easy it is to write a thesis statement for this theme while not actually offering an example myself. So here it is:

Through Dimmesdale, The Scarlet Letter shows readers how dangerous hypocrisy can be and how it can take over a person’s life. Dimmesdale’s hypocrisy over Hester Prynne’s adultery and public shame consumes him and, eventually, is the cause of his death.

Themes in The Scarlet Letter #4: Revenge

Chillingworth is the type of guy who is worthy of sending chills down anyone’s spine (maybe the reason for his name?). He is the epitome of evil in The Scarlet Letter, and his primary act of evil is seeking revenge on Dimmesdale.

Chillingworth never really loved Hester, but he is certainly angry when he finds out she had another man’s baby. He decides that her public humiliation is torture enough and decides to find her lover and take revenge on him—which he does.

Chillingworth poses as a doctor and manages to get very close to Dimmesdale, who he begins to torture. I’m sure he could have easily killed Dimmesdale (and not thought twice about it), but he decides to make it a much more agonizing process.

He slowly tortures Dimmesdale until the reverend really cannot stand it anymore. Chillingworth represents revenge to such an extreme that once Dimmesdale confesses his sin in front of the town, Chillingworth dies because he doesn’t get to seek revenge anymore—his life’s mission is over.

All right … last thesis statement, and then you’re on your own:

The theme of revenge in The Scarlet Letter is embodied by Chillingworth, who represents pure evil. Chillingworth is so consumed by his plans for vengeance that he makes it his ultimate life goal and quickly perishes once his goal is fulfilled.

See, not so bad right? The themes of identity, sin, hypocrisy, and revenge in The Scarlet Letter are still significant in today’s society—even if we’re not all Puritans. Now that you have some examples and ideas, you can confidently write your analysis.

Bonus Tips

But before you go, take these bonus tips and extra guidance with you. If you want to ensure your analysis is top-notch, check out these 8 Components of a Smart Literary Analysis and provide commentary, not summary.

You can also check out these Literary Analysis Essay Tips from a Kibin Editor.

Still a little unsure on how to flesh out your essay? Try reading some example essays that dissect various themes in The Scarlet Letter. Here’s a few to get you started:

Now, you should be good to go off on your own, yes?

Once you’ve cranked out your essay draft, if you’re still unsure if your essay is A-worthy, send it to our Kibin editors for review. With our help, you can earn that A to wear proudly.

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Writing a literary analysis essay about a classical literary work is a common assignment in literature courses. Not only does it force students to read the original text, but it also pushes them to delve into the author’s opinions and commentaries on the text. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the richest novels when it comes to themes and ideas, which is why many instructors choose it for literary analysis write-ups.

If you have this book on your reading list and have to write a literary analysis on it, refer to the list below to decide on an aspect to tackle. If you want to come up with your own idea, check our 10 facts on ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by N. Hawthorne for a literary analysis. Without further ado, the topics:

  1. The Role of Pearl in Hester’s Transformation
  2. An Exploration of the Relationship between Hester’s Identity and the Scarlet Letter
  3. The Contrast between Herter’s Self-Created Identity and the One Which Society Assigns to Her
  4. The Scarlet Letter as a Commentary on the American History
  5. The Use of Symbols: Puritan vs. the Narrator
  6. The Functions of Physical Settings in the Scarlet Letter
  7. An Analysis of Chillingworth’s Ideas of Revenge
  8. Pearl: A Blessing and a Curse for Hester
  9. Pearl as a Symbol of Hester’s Conscience
  10. The Contrasting Behavior of Children and Adults in the Scarlet Letter
  11. Hawthorne’s Ideas of the Inherently Flawed Human as Presented in The Scarlet Letter
  12. Hester Prynne: When Women Break Cultural Bonds and Gain Personal Power
  13. Sphere Imagery: Purpose and Effectiveness
  14. The Scarlet Letter: An Embodiment of the Tradition of Romanticism?
  15. The Difference between Hester and Dimmesdale
  16. An Exploration of How Tone, Word Choice, and Symbolism Help In Character Development in the Scarlet Letter
  17. The Literary Devices in the Scarlet Letter: Types, Usage and Effect on Persuasiveness
  18. Hypocrisy and Conformity in the Scarlet Letter
  19. Sin in the Puritan Community: A Comparison between the Punishments of Men and Women
  20. Hester Prynne: A Sinner and a Saint

You can use these topics as is or tweak them a little to suit the purpose of your thesis. If you wish to explore a more specific aspect, you can choose to refine any of the topics from our list. This will ensure that you choose something substantial and relevant.

A sample essay is added below to help inspire your literary analysis. The following lines explore the symbolism of the major characters in the text.

Sample Literary Analysis: An Exploration of How Tone, Word Choice, and Symbolism Help in Character Development in the Scarlet Letter

‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the prominent romance novels despite not appearing to be one. It delves deeply into the Puritan community, highlighting its rigid rules of life and how its members could suffer by going against them. One of the aspects that make ‘The Scarlet Letter’ truly immortal is the author’s extensive use of symbols. Therefore, in order to understand the text, it is necessary to analyze the myriad of symbols presented.

In literature, a symbol is often a concrete idea used to represent a more complex, abstract idea. This idea is broader in meaning and scope, and is usually a religious, philosophical or moral concept. The Puritans view the world through allegories. Simple patterns of nature such as a meteor moving through the sky held a deeply religious meaning. This is just one facet of the repressive thinking. Hawthorne shows their moral attitudes in a different light through the symbolism of his characters.

The Puritan society looks at Hester as a woman fallen from grace, Dimmesdale as a saint-like personality, and was likely to consider Chillingworth as a victim and a betrayed husband. The author turns these interpretations around; he ultimately shows Hester as a sensitive human being, strips Dimmesdale of his saint-like façade, and reveals Chillingworth as an offender of humanity who pursues evil and revenge.

The Puritan mentality refuses to accept the reality of these characters. Hester is shunned and Dimmesdale’s confession is not believed by many people. This shows that underneath the public displays of piety so favored by Puritanism, there exists a grim underside that goes unseen. The static and stagnant thinking of the Puritanical society is shown through the transformation of characters as symbols and the subsequent refusal of the society to accept this change.

Hester is a fallen woman in the beginning; she is publically shamed and shunned, causing her to suffer greatly. She struggles to understand the letter’s symbolic meaning only to come out as a strong woman in the end. Hester gains a unique understanding of humanity and the struggles of other people. As Hawthorne says, “The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread.”

Dimmesdale is a private sinner; his sins remain a secret. His public face presents a stark contrast with his private face. The Colony of Massachusetts looks at him as an embodiment of sanctity and goodness, but this is just a façade. Dimmesdale struggles internally and drowns in the storm raging between his holiness and guilt. Dimmesdale is a symbol of hypocrisy and moral weakness. He refuses to do the right thing and the reader comes to view his piety as something superficial. Ultimately, he manages to redeem his soul, albeit quite late.

Pearl is by far the strongest of the allegorical images in this text. She symbolizes the freedom of nature. Hester views her as “the living hieroglyphic” of her sin. Hester describes Pearl to the community leaders by saying, “she is my happiness! — she is my torture. . . See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a million-fold the power of retribution for my sin?”

The Scarlet Letter displays symbols through characterization, colors, location and light. The author’s brilliant use of these symbols and their transformation is a major reason for the acclaim and popularity of this classical work and why it has become a peerless example of romance novels.

After reading this analysis, you probably have a few suggestions and thoughts to make it appear better. So, quickly jot those down and begin creating an outline for your own literary analysis. If you need more help with this assignment, check out our guide on how to write a literary analysis on ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by N. Hawthorne.

References:
Hunter, Dianne, Seduction and theory: readings of gender, representation, and rhetoric. University of Illinois Press. 1989. Pgs. 186-187
Schreiner, Samuel A., Jr. The Concord Quartet: Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and the Friendship That Freed the American Mind. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006: 158.ISBN 978-0-471-64663-1
Crowley, J. Donald, and Orestes Brownson. Chapter 50: [Orestes Brownson], From A Review In Brownson’s Quarterly Review.” Nathaniel Hawthorne (0-415-15930-X) (1997): 175–179. Literary Reference Center Plus.
Wineapple, Brenda. Hawthorne: A Life. Random House: New York, 2003: 209–210. ISBN 0-8129-7291-0.
Wright, John Hardy. Hawthorne’s Haunts in New England. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008: 47. ISBN 978-1-59629-425-7.
McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004: 136. ISBN 0-8021-1776-7
Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is my Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 299. ISBN 0-87745-332-2

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