Literary Techniques in The Scarlet Letter Argument Topics for the Essay

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Literary Techniques in The Scarlet Letter

Argument Topics for the Essay

  • Sin
  • Initiation
  • Pride
  • Alienation
  • Guilt
  • Breaking Society’s Rules

Language Devices for the Analysis Essay

Descriptive Detail:

  • The writer’s sensory description, usually focused on the visual. Consider diction (vocabulary & degree of difficulty, complexity, etc.) and selection of detail. What does the writer want you to notice?
    • “there came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man’s soul were on fire, and kept on smouldering duskily within his breast” (155)
    • “A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women… were assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak and studded with iron spikes” (45).


  • Descriptive language used to convey a visual picture or represent or create any sensory experience
    • “Perceiving a flock of beach-birds, that fed and fluttered along the shore, the naughty child picked up her apron full of pebbles, and, creeping from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl [began] pelting them” (162).

Figurative Language:

  • Includes apostrophe, hyperbole, metaphor, oxymoron, paradox, personification, simile, and understatement, often used to associate or compare dissimilar things, supplements and modifies the literal meanings of concepts
    • “His moral force was abased into more than childish weakness. It grovelled helpless on the ground” (146).


  • A statement that seems self-contradictory or nonsensical on the surface, but may be seen to contain an underlying truth. Can be seen as ironic.
    • “The infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden” (82)


  • A contradiction or incongruity between appearance and expectation or reality. A discrepancy may exist between what someone says and what s/he means, what someone expects to happen and what really does happen, or between what appears to be true and what actually is true.
  • For the purposes of this essay, situational irony is not appropriate; focus in on language
    • Dimmesdale’s attempt at categorizing himself as a sinner, and the people’s reverent response


  • The various means by which an author describes and develops the characters in a literary work
    • “the little Puritans, being the most intolerant brood that ever lived” (162).
    • “’Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!’” (90).

Point of View:

  • Limited: usually recounts the story through the eyes of a single character; reader is privy to the inner thoughts and feelings of a “limited” number of characters
  • Omniscient: able to recount the action thoroughly and reliably, and able to enter the mind of any character at any time; can conceal as well as reveal at will.
  • Direct address:
    • “if we suppose this interview betwixt Mistress Hibbins and Hester Prynne to be authentic” (108).
    • “It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom…” (46).

Themes & Argument:

  • Consider questions, rather than answers.
  • Psychological novel – What aspects of human nature does Hawthorne focus on? What is he arguing?
  • Focus on how the use of a technique enhances his argument – makes it more clear, persuasive, etc.

Other Language Devices Used in the Novel


  • An indirect reference to a person, event, statement or theme found in literature, the other arts, history, mythology, religion or popular culture
    • “this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom,… [appeared to be an] image of Divine Maternity,… something which should remind… [one] of that sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the world” (53).


  • using character or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in addition to the literal meaning. The allegorical meaning usually deals with moral truth or generalization about human existence.
    • “He had been driven hither by the impulse of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere, and whose own sister … was that Cowardice which invariably drew him back” (136).
    • “there seemed to be no longer anything in Hester’s face for Love to dwell upon; nothing in Hester’s form… that Passion would ever dream of clasping in her embrace…” (150).


  • Something that, although of interest in its own right, stands for or suggests something larger and more complex
    • The Scaffold
    • Roger Chillingworth
    • Pearl
    • The Scarlet Letter
    • The Forest
    • The Brook

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