LEARNING GUIDE TO:
THE SCARLET LETTER
One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in English Language Arts, High School Level.Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating (but suitable for all ages); Drama; 1979; 240 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com. (Teachwithmovies.com does not recommend the 1995 version starring Demi Moore.)
Description: This is a faithful rendering of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel about Hester Prynne a young married woman in Puritan Salem, Massachusetts. Hester's husband has been missing for years and is presumed dead. She has a secret love affair with a minister and becomes pregnant. Obviously guilty of adultery but unwilling to name the father of her child, Hester faces the condemnation of the community. Her hypocritical lover allows her to suffer alone while being revered by the townspeople as the epitome of a saintly man. When her husband unexpectedly appears on the scene, revenge becomes the driving force in the plot.
Rationale for Using the Movie: Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter is not easy reading. This film is true to the text and can assist students in their efforts to follow and comprehend the book. The principles of Puritan society are fairly represented in the film, thus enabling students to understand the principles by which early American villagers lived.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will exercise research skills to improve their awareness of early American life and through role playing and writing assignments at the end of the film they will be able to present arguments about moral issues raised in the story.
Possible Problems: None.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
SUGGESTIONS FOR USING THE SCARLET LETTER IN THE CLASSROOM
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. Was Hawthorne criticizing the Puritan view or illuminating it? Suggested Response: In the love between Hester and Dimmesdale, a Puritan could only see a violation of God's law. As the plot develops, Dimmesdale, who cannot separate himself from the Puritan view, dies. Hester and Pearl survive and prosper. Through these outcomes, Hawthorne shows himself as favoring Hester's rather than the Puritan's world view.
2. What does The Scarlet Letter tell us about the differences between a person's real nature and how he or she is viewed by the community? Suggested Response: The story reveals hidden natures and generally notes that even the most revered can be corrupt (Dimmesdale); that even those scorned as sinners can be holy (Hester); and that those revered for a skill or power can in fact be morally bankrupt (Chillingsworth).
3. Why can't Dimmesdale go off with Hester and live happily ever after? What is there about his character and the Puritan colonists as a group that prevents this? Suggested Response: Dimmesdale could not leave Boston with Hester because he genuinely believed in the Puritan religion and in the community. Dimmesdale believed that his guilt, represented by Chillingsworth, would follow him wherever he went. The Puritans felt that outside the community individuals were lost from site of God. Thus, for Dimmesdale, there was no escape. Students may suggest that Hester, already forced to live on the periphery of society, would have been fine elsewhere and, in fact, she did well when she returned to England.
For another 40 discussion questions, see Supplemental Materials for The Scaralet Letter.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Select from among the students a few who would serve as jurors to hear the cases against Hester, Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth. Select students who would be willing to play the parts of these three characters to argue before this jury seeking justify their actions. The jury must decide (1) what punishment would a puritan jury mete out to such persons and (2) what punishment, if any, would a modern jury impose?
2. Write a persuasive essay in which you determine which of the three characters, Hester, Dimmesdale or Chillingsworth is the greater sinner. Back up your points with clear arguments. Grant concessions when appropriate.
3. Research and write an expository essay on the rules by which Puritan society in the early colonies lived. Suggest reasons for such harsh regulations and seek to explain why firm social control might have been necessary in a new nation, away from the restraints of old Europe.
See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
BUILDING VOCABULARY: puritanism, predestination, repentance, hypocrisy, magistrate, beadle, martyr, illegitimate, imp; retribution, scaffold, ghastly, ransomed; piety.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
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