The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter

In this reader you will find: – Information about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life – A focus on Puritanism – A focus on women in Puritan New England – A focus on daily life in Puritan New England – Glossary of difficult words – Comprehension and grammar activities - Final test

Tags Classic literature




600 headwords




800 headwords


Key (KET)



1000 headwords


Preliminary (PET)


Upper Intermediate 1800 headwords


First (FCE)



2500 headwords


Advanced (CAE)



Unabridged Texts


Proficiency (CPE)


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Set in 17th century Puritan Boston, this is the story of Hester Prynne and her illegitimate daughter Pearl. She is condemned to wear a scarlet letter “A” as punishment for her adultery, but she refuses to reveal the identity of Pearl’s father and they live a solitary life in a small cottage. We meet many characters, including her husband Roger Chillingworth, the young priest Arthur Dimmesdale and Mistress Hibbins. The Scarlet Letter is one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most famous novels.


Nathaniel Hawthorne


Eli Readers is a beautifully illustrated series of timeless classics and specially-written stories for learners of English.




Contents 6

Main Characters


Before you read

10 Chapter 1 18

The Sinner in the Market Place


20 Chapter 2

Recognition and Meeting

28 Activities 30 Chapter 3

Hester and her child

38 Activities 40 Chapter 4

Hester fights for her child

48 Activities 50 Chapter 5

The Physician and the Minister

58 Activities 60 Chapter 6

Hester meets Roger Chillingworth

68 Activities 70 Chapter 7

A Walk in the Forest

78 Activities 80 Chapter 8

The Encounter

88 Activities 90 Chapter 9

The Revelation

100 Activities 102 Focus on...

Nathaniel Hawthorne

104 Focus on...


106 Focus on...

Women in Puritan New England

108 Focus on...

Daily Life in New England

110 Test yourself 111 Syllabus

These icons indicate the parts of the story that are recorded start stop


Reverend John Wilson

Roger Chillingworth

Governor Bellingham


Hester Prynne Arthur Dimmesdale

Mistress Hibbins Pearl 7



Read the description of the story below and choose a word which best fits each gap. The Scarlet Letter is set in the seventeenth-century Puritan settlement of Boston in America. The story (1) _____ with a young woman being led from the town prison to the town scaffold. Her name is Hester Prynne and she is carrrying her baby daughter, Pearl. She is also (2) _____ a scarlet letter “A” on her dress because she is being punished for adultery. The people in the crowd only know that Hester was (3) _____ to America by her husband, a much older man, who apparently never arrived in Boston. Everyone believed he had (4) _____ lost at sea. While in Boston, it is believed that Hester had an affair because she has given birth to a baby girl, but she will not reveal the identity of her lover. The scarlet letter is her public shaming for her sin and secrecy. One of the (5) _____ in the crowd is Hester’s husband, a doctor using the name Roger Chillingworth. Intent on revenge, he only reveals his true identity to Hester and swears her to secrecy. As the years pass, Hester lives in a small cottage with Pearl and is helped by a young minister called Arthur Dimmesdale when the town authorities try to take Pearl away from her. Over time, (6) _____, Dimmesdale becomes ill with a heart problem and appears psychologically distressed. Under the pretence of providing the minister with care, Roger Chillingworth moves into his home, as he suspects a connection between Arthur and Hester. His (7) _____ are confirmed when he finds a mark on the man’s chest. Over the years, Dimmesdale continues to punish himself, and one night Hester finds him on the town scaffold. She joins him there with Pearl and they (8) _____ hands. After Dimmesdale refuses to tell everyone that he is Pearl’s father, a meteor makes a red “A” in the night sky. Hester and Dimmesdale then decide to leave America for Europe, (9) _____ they can live as a family with Pearl. They are all happy, but Chillingworth finds out and books a passage on the same ship. After leaving church for the last time, Dimmesdale impulsively jumps onto the town scaffold with Hester and Pearl and confesses


his sin to the crowd. As he does so, and Pearl kisses him, he falls down dead. Chillingworth dies a year later too, and Hester and Pearl leave Boston. (10) _____ knows where they went, but many years later, Hester returns. She is still wearing her scarlet letter. Pearl remains in Europe where she married into a rich family. When Hester dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale and they share a tombstone with a scarlet letter “A”. 1 A begins 2 A watching 3 A gone 4 A had 5 A women 6 A unless 7 A suspicions 8 A holding 9 A which 10 A Somewhere

B ends B making B sent B gone B children B then B worries B held B where B Nothing

C talks C wearing C made C been C people C so C thoughts C hold C when C Everybody

D looks D doing D arrived D being D man D however D ideas D make D who D Nobody


2a What do you know about life in 17th century America? Think about:

A Houses and homes B Transport

2b Discuss the meanings of the words “sin” and “secrecy” (highlighted in exercise 2). Can you think of any synonyms for these words?



Read these phrases, then as you listen to the first part of Chapter 1, tick the ones you hear. – – – – – –

The Boston forefathers had built the first prison near Cornhill… By the prison door was a beautiful wild rose bush… Crowds of people stood near the prison… Had this place ever looked youthful? You swam in the rough sea A man wore a tall hat…


Chapter One

The Sinner in the Market Place 2 On an early morning in June, a small group of men with beards and

wearing dark clothes and tall hats stood in front of a wooden, oak door with iron spikes*. There was a group of women near them too, some of them bareheaded and others with hoods* over their heads. They whispered amongst themselves as they stood in the morning light. This was Boston and the founders of this colony had wisely* allocated a portion of new land for a cemetery and another for a prison. The Boston forefathers had built the first prison near Cornhill almost at the same time as they had used Isaac Johnson’s land for the cemetery. By the time these people gathered at its doors some fifteen or twenty years later, the prison was already looking old and the ironwork on the door was rusty*. Had this place ever looked youthful? The only distraction from the ugly building was a small plot of grass in front of the door. Although overgrown with weeds, right by the prison door was a beautiful wild rose bush covered with pretty pink roses. Kept alive over the years, it offered its beauty to the criminals who passed through the prison doors. spikes a narrow, thin shape with a point at the end hoods a piece of clothing that can be put over the head wisely showing good judgement


rusty adjective to describe a reddish-brown colour that forms on iron

The Scarlet Letter

On that June morning, the colourful roses provided a sharp contrast to the gloomy*, dark attire* of the people gathered outside the prison waiting for the huge wooden doors to open. So it was that on that early summer morning about two centuries 3 ago, a group of Bostonians gathered together on the grass outside the jail in Prison Lane, all watching intently the large wooden door. What were they waiting for? At that time in the history of New England, it was certainly something grim or awful. Perhaps an execution, the whipping* of a child, an Indian to be driven out* of town, or even a witch to be hanged* at the gallows*. Whatever the event was to be, the people gathered on the grass that morning were serious and sombre*. Here was a group of people who believed that religion and law were one and the same thing. They were cold and distant. What might be a meagre offence today was considered very seriously at this time, even with death itself. There were a number of women in the crowd that morning. These were strong, hard, bitter women, very different to their more refined and delicate descendants. The morning sun shone on their robust bodies as they stood waiting for the prison door to open. Then one of them, a hard-faced woman of about fifty, spoke, ‘Goodwives, I’ll tell you what I think. We should be deciding what to do about this woman, Hester Prynne. We are good churchgoers and of a mature age. If we had judged Hester Prynne, I’m sure she would have received a very different sentence than that of these great magistrates. Oh yes, I’m sure!’ Then another woman in the group spoke, ‘You know, I’ve heard that Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, is very sad that gloomy dark and unhappy attire clothing whipping to whip (verb): to hit someone with a long thin piece of leather

driven out to drive out (phrasal verb): to force someone away from a place hanged to kill someone with a rope gallows a wooden frame used for hanging people sombre serious or sad


Nathaniel Hawthorne

this scandal has happened amongst his congregation.’ A third woman continued, ‘These magistrates are certainly Godfearing gentlemen but I think they are too forgiving and understanding. A brand of hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead was the least they should have ordered. That would have made her wince*! But she will care very little about what they put on her bodice*, since she can easily cover it up with a brooch and walk around as normal!’ Then a younger woman with a child spoke up, ‘Yes, but even if she covers up her mark, she will always feel the pain in her heart.’ The woman’s soft voice was suddenly quietened by another woman, probably the ugliest of the group, shouting, ‘Marks, brands, on her gown, on her forehead. Why are we talking about this? She should die for the shame she has brought upon us all! Is there no law at all?’ She was quickly interrupted by a man in the crowd, ‘Is there no mercy, goodwife? Quiet now, you gossips! The prison door is opening and Mistress Prynne is coming out now!’ With this, the prison door opened and a black figure emerged into the sunshine. It was the town-beadle, an officer of the town, carrying a sword and a staff* of office. With the staff in his left hand, he placed his right hand on a young woman’s shoulder, pushing her forward towards the prison door. At this point, however, she pushed him away from her and showing her strength of character she stepped into the sunlight. She was carrying a baby of about three months old, who blinked* and wriggled* at the bright sun, having only been used to the dark of the prison. Standing before the crowd, Hester Prynne pulled her baby towards her, trying maybe to hide what was fastened to her dress. After a wince to feel pain or embarrassment bodice part of a dress that covers the upper-half of the body staff a stick carried by an official on a formal occasion


blinked from the verb “to blink” meaning to close your eyes for a very short time and then open them again wriggled from the verb “to wriggle” meaning to move by turning quickly

The Scarlet Letter



Nathaniel Hawthorne Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804 to Nathaniel Hathorne and his wife Elizabeth Clarke Manning. He was an American novelist and short story writer. He published his first work in 1828, a novel called Fanshawe, and went on to write many more centred on life and morals in 19th century New England. He also wrote a biography of his college friend, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States. He is seen as a key figure in the development of American colonial history literature. Many of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestors are known for their strict Puritan beliefs, including his great-great-great grandfather, William Hathorne, who was a judge famous for his harsh sentencing, and William’s son, John Hathorne, who was one of the judges overseeing the Salem witch trials. It is believed that it was an attempt to dissociate himself from these ancestors that saw Nathaniel add a “w” to his surname soon after graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine. Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody in 1842 and they had three children and a happy marriage together. During this time, he worked in the Custom House in Salem and continued writing, publishing The Scarlet Letter in midMarch 1850. It became one of the first ever mass-produced books in America and sold 2,500 volumes in just ten days. He earnt $1,500 over a period of 14 years. 102

When Franklin Pierce became President, Nathaniel Hawthorne was given the position of United States consul in Liverpool, a highly coveted post and a role that was considered the most lucrative foreign service position of the time. This appointment ended in 1857 when Pierce left office. After a period travelling around Europe, Hawthorne returned to America with his family in 1860 and died in 1864. Much of his writing was inspired by Puritan New England and combined historical romance with deep psychological themes. In his early career, he was predominantly a short story writer but he wrote four major novels, including The Scarlet Letter, between 1850 and 1860 which were very successful and gave him his place in American literary history. 103

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