Essay Topic For Scarlet Letter
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.
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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IDEAS ON SCARLET LETTER ESSAY TOPICS
The scarlet letter is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romance novel that was set in the seventeenth century around the puritan society. The novel explores how this strict society was when it came to punishment for breaking the law. It revolves around the lives of Hester Prynne, a beautiful but adulterous woman, her love child, Pearl, her lover and her husband. It is indeed an intriguing but controversial book.
When trying to decide on an essay topic generally for most novels, there are several angles of looking at. Your essay could be based on;
- Themes used by the author in the book
- Stylistic devices
For scarlet letter essay topics, of course the first step is to read the book. You might have to read the book a couple of times to get a deeper understanding of the storyline. Give yourself sometime between the readings so you can have a clear mind. After the first reading, you can use a highlighter or a notepad to take short notes. They will come in handy when you get down to the actual essay writing. Consider the following;
- Use of symbolism- how does the author use symbolism? Consider the scene at the beginning where Hester is released from prison and taken to the market place. Is the prison symbolic in any way? Compare the town and the forest and the different events that take place in each. What is their significance? The scarlet letter is a symbol in itself. The meteor and pearl are also symbolic and can be interpreted in different ways.
- Use of themes- Hawthorne uses different themes in the novel to bring out different elements. Some of the themes are;
- Justice and judgement
- Gender roles and femininity- why does Hester carry herself with such grace even after she is publicly humiliated? Does it define her character as a feminist? What about the other women in the novel and their gossip? How are the roles of men and women depicted in the book? What professions do they have? Does the society treat them all equally or is there gender discrimination?
- Fate and autonomy- Is Dimmesdale destined to die for his sins? Does Hester get to live because she freely accepts her punishment and pays the price for it?
- Hypocrisy and sincerity – Does Dimmesdale live a miserable life because he is a hypocrite and silently suffer? Does Hester live any better because of her sincerity?
- Light and judgement- why do all the interesting things happen at night?
- Revenge- why is Roger Chillingworth so intent on having revenge on Dimmesdale? Does he still want his wife back? He might as well have left town and carried on with his soaring career as a doctor. Why does he decide to stay?
- The supernatural- What role does Mistress Hibbins play in the book? Is her relationship with the governor significant and what does she do in the woods? What do the other characters feel about the supernatural events?
- Law and religion- what role does the law play in determining how people are treated. Does religion have an influence on the law and people’s behavior?
- The characters in the novel
Hester Prynne- she is a single mother who has a child to take care of. Even with all the humiliation and rejection, she still rises to become a pillar in her community.
Arthur Dimmesdale- what is his significance, being a reverend and a community leader and yet secretly sinning and living as a hypocrite?
Roger Chillingworth- why does he choose to stay even though he has lost his wife? Why is he interested in uncovering the man she cheated on him with and revenging?
Pearl- why is she named Pearl despite being born out of sin. What influences her character?
Mistress Hibbins- why is she so crucial to the whole plot and what is the significance of her actions?
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