Connecting the Themes of Religion, Persecution, and Being an Outcast in the Novel The Scarlet Letter

Newsela Article

Learning Objective

Students will be able to: compare and contrast the religious Puritans and their control of Boston in 1642 as depicted in the novel The Scarlet Letter, and issues surrounding the division of church and state in contemporary America, specifically as they relate to the people discussed in the Newsela news article.

The Scarlet Letter gives us a window into the life of the Puritan Christians of New England. They were a strong societal force, attempting to control the thoughts and  behaviour of the English people who had settled there in the 1600s. In the story, Hester Prynne lives in Puritan Boston. Her husband, who was supposed to follow her to America from England on a separate ship, seems to have been lost at sea. She gives birth to the daughter of a respected Boston minister Arthur Dimmesdale, whom she had been secretly involved with. Since her child is born well over nine months from when she last could have seen her husband, it is obvious to the town that the child was born out of wedlock. If her husband is still alive, and he might be, she has also committed adultery. This violently offends the values of her community. She is made to wear a scarlet (red) letter “A” on the front of her clothing all the time, to remind everyone that she has committed adultery. She is humiliated by being forced to stand on a platform in the town square for hours so that people may judge her. The authorities demand to know who the father of her child is, but she refuses to tell them, to protect Dimmesdale from punishment. In contemporary America, many people believe that partners having a child outside of marriage is completely acceptable. Even having an intimate relationship with one person while legally married to another is a relatively forgivable offense to some. However, in addition to the trends toward a more secular society in the last 100 years, there has also been a recent rebound of evangelical movements. There have been efforts to impose religious values into the decisions of government institutions which affect all citizens.

Students will compare and contrast the situations faced by Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, and the California State University students discussed in the Newsela article.   

They will also be able to answer the following Essential Questions:

  • Explain how the dominant religious values of Puritans of 1640s Boston are imposed upon the characters in the novel The Scarlet Letter. How would people of other religious beliefs or those who did not believe in religion at all have fared in that society? The constitution of the United States was written in the late 1700s. It dictates both freedom of religion, and a division of church and state for this country ( freedom from religion relative to state functions).
  • How could these constitutional principles have affected Hester and Arthur if they had been available to them in Boston in 1642? How do these principles affect the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s request to be exempt from the rules for funding for all other student groups at a state school that is funded by public taxes?

Learning Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.10
By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2
Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

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