The Scarlet Letter

Students read the renowned novel The Scarlet Letter, exploring and analyzing the themes of sin, compassion, and hypocrisy as they played out in seventeenth-century Puritan New England.



Unit 7

11th Grade

Unit Summary

As one of the most widely read novels in the American literary canon, The Scarlet Letter is a fitting end to this course. In his renowned novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne explores the themes of sin, compassion, and hypocrisy as they play out in seventeenth-century Puritan New England. As students track Hawthorne’s development of his characters, plot, and themes, they will analyze his use of such literary techniques as symbols, motifs, and evocative names to communicate his message to his readers. Critical of the relationship between religion and law in Puritan society, Hawthorne raises questions about the society and its treatment of the individuals that will likely resonate with students as being as applicable to today’s society as they are to the world of Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. 

To further develop students’ understanding of the thematic topics, they will listen to several podcasts during this unit that engage with themes and questions similar to those raised in the novel. As a culminating task, students will be asked to produce their own podcast that explores one of the key thematic questions through the lens of a current societal issue.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 7 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

  • Read and annotate the novel.
  • Read and annotate all of the paired texts.
  • Listen to the podcasts.
  • Take the unit test and draft a potential essay.
  • Read and consider the key thematic questions both in relation to the novel and in relation to current events or other lenses through which students may develop their answers to these questions.

Essential Questions

  • Sin and Redemption: What is sin? Are sin and evil synonymous? Can one be redeemed for one’s sins? If so, how?
  • Compassion and Forgiveness: Do compassion and forgiveness have the power to overcome sin and evil? Who has the power to forgive: the victim? God? Society? 
  • Isolation: How does isolation from others impact an individual? What is the impact on a society when it isolates some of its members?
  • Female Identity: Must women be “good wives” or “evil witches”? Is it possible, in the eyes of society, to allow women to be some combination of the two or something entirely different? Are men also held to this standard?
  • Hypocrisy: What is the price of hypocrisy? Can one be hypocritical and still be a positive contributor to society?

Writing Focus Areas

Unit Focus: Clear and concise thesis that effectively addresses the prompt

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Clear and logical analysis of textual evidence 
  • Effectively incorporating advanced vocabulary in written assignments


Literary Terms

juxtaposition, diction, characterization, tone, mood, motif, theme, pathos, symbolism, allusion

Roots and Affixes

mal-, venge-, be-, in-, necro-


edifice (1), frailty (2), inauspicious (2), portal (2), sentiment (2), solemnity (2), demeanor (2), venerable (2), virtue (3), dismal (4), severity (4), haughty (4 & 5), evanescent (4), ignominy (4, 6 & throughout the novel), ignominious (10), conspicuous (7), penetrative (8), imperceptible (9), iniquity (9 & 10), sage/sagacity (11), hypocrisy (12), quell (14), avenge (15), vengeance (15), besmirch (17), inscrutable (19), inevitability (19 & 33), vanity (21), penance (21), discourse (22), revelation (23), incredulity (24), impassioned (24 & 25), radiance (25), despondency (25), sprite (26), placidity (26), caprice (27), impelled (30), deprived (30), dauntless (32), convex (34), transgressions (35), warily (37), proximity (37), tremulous (38 & 43), averred (40), appellation (40), infamy (41), contagion (41), zeal (41), fervent (42), emaciated (42), scrutinized (44), affinity (44), integrity (47), ghastly (48), irreverently (50), recounted (51), proffering (52), somniferous (52), malice (53), latent (53), avenger (53), odious (54), abhorrence (54), eminent (54), ethereal (55), inconceivable (55), somnambulism (57), expiation (58), tumultuousness (61), malevolence (63), despondency (64), pristine (65), irksomeness (65), requital (65), calamity (66), transfigured (67), semblance (69), auspicious (69), wrought (70), visage (70), lurid (71), blighted (74), malignant (74), nuptial (74), purport (76), resolve (78), vainly (78), melancholy (80), despondency (80), somber (82), devoid (83), penance/penitence (84), misanthropy (84), sanctity (86), habituated (88), estranged (88), intolerant (92), intangible (93), imperious (94), mollified (94), intrusive (96), disquietude (97), incited (98), gratuitous (101), preternaturally (104), countenance (104 & 106), impracticable (106), mirthful (106), relinquish (107), deportment (108), mien (109), consternation (109), contiguous (109), eminence/eminent (110), fortitude (110), delusion (111), necromancy (112), pathos (113), indefatigable (114), audacity (114), inevitable (115), rapture (116), pathos (116), conjectural (121), futile (121), fidelity (122), reverence (124), revelation (124)

Idioms and Cultural References

Ann Hutchinson (2), Queen Elizabeth (3), hussy (3), Goodwives (3), town-beadle (4), Puritanic code of law (4), infernal pit (13), alchemy (15), Paracelsus (15), “into the pit” (16), Black Man (18), Cain (22), Providence (24), leech (33), Elizabethan Age (33), mail (33), King James’ reign, charger (35), Elixir of Life (41), “providential hand” (43), David and Bathsheba (45), Ann Hutchinson (68), horn-book (76), transfiguration (85), minstrel (106), quarterstaff (106), fie (112), stigma (121), gules (125)

Content Knowledge and Connections

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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Unit 6


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