Scarlet Letter Symbolism & Themes

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter Symbolism


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the book, and support their choices with details from the text. This book is particularly rich in symbolism, so as a classroom activity, students can track the rich symbolic and thematic writing Hawthorne uses.


The novel centers around the sin of Hester Prynne in her Puritan society. The sin of adultery, even though her husband is thought to have been lost at sea, is not something that can be discussed or argued about in 17th-century Boston. Hester’s sin follows her for the rest of her life, and she begins to fear that the sin of passion she shares with Dimmesdale has been embodied in her daughter Pearl, who is full of passion and light, very much unlike the standards of Puritan Boston.


Dimmesdale is haunted by his guilt from not coming forward as Pearl’s father for seven years. His internal struggles become external problems, and even the townspeople notice. When Chillingworth arrives, posing as a doctor, the townspeople believe divine providence has sent him to Boston to help their dear Reverend overcome his illness.


Hester and Pearl live in isolation during their time in Boston. They live in a small shack, and they are shunned by the townspeople for many years. They are mocked by children, avoided by adults, and Hester is often the topic of the weekly sermon at church. Her only connection to the town is through her seamstress work.


The rosebush is the one, beautiful piece of nature that blossoms against the gray of the prison in the center of town. When Hester walks out of the prison door to her punishment on the scaffold, the rosebush reflects her beauty in a sea of gray, her uniqueness in a town of judgment and frowns.


The scaffold serves as stage for many of the novel’s key moments: it is the scene of Hester’s punishment, where she stands alone holding baby Pearl, enduring the town’s shame. The reader sees Dimmesdale connected to Hester and Pearl; their first time together as a family. Chillingworth is watching this same scene and hiding in the shadows, plotting his revenge. Finally, the scaffold is where Dimmesdale delivers his final sermon, rips open his shirt, and reveals the letter “A” engraved into his chest, thus confessing his sin of adultery and crushing the dream he and Hester had of escaping to a new life in Europe.

The Letter “A”

The letter A, for “Adultery”, is, at first, a source of shame and guilt for Hester. As time wears on and Hester works among the people, however, it comes to mean “Able”, because she is a quiet, prudent worker who does a lot for those in need. While Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl are united on the scaffold in the middle of the night, a meteor in the shape of an “A” lights up the sky, signifying to the reader that this is the family we have been waiting to be revealed. Finally, it is said that when Dimmesdale rips open his shirt, as he dies after his Election Day sermon, the letter “A” was engraved into his chest, signifying his part in the affair with Hester, and his guilt for allowing Hester to carry their burdensome secret alone.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Scarlet Letter. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Scarlet Letter you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for the example(s) that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

Template: Theme


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