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Learning Activities Related to Hawthorne and Women

Learning Activities Related to Hawthorne and Women

Illustration by George Henry Boughton in 1881 for <I>The Scarlet Letter</I>
Illustration by George Henry Boughton in 1881 for The Scarlet Letter (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)

1. In Hawthorne's fiction he frequently uses older female characters to examine connections to the past and the relationship between the past and present. Both Hepzibah Pyncheon from The House of the Seven Gables  and Old Esther Dudley from "Old Esther Dudley" are characters who reflect this approach by Hawthorne. To explore this theme more fully, you may consider the following:

a. Look at the excerpts about and images related to Hepzibah Pyncheon and Esther Dudley listed below and consider the questions that follow:

How do Hawthorne's descriptions of Hepzibah and Esther underscore their connections to the past? What words does he use to describe their appearance, attire, and environments to suggest the close ties they feel to the past? How do the illustrations and images reinforce Hawthorne's ideas?

b. Both Seven Gables and the Province House contain mirrors that seem to reflect the presence of figures from the past. Examine the passages in which Hawthorne describes the mirrors. What appears in each? How does Esther feel about the images she sees? What does the narrative suggest about the images that appear in Seven Gables?

c. Hepzibah and Esther share certain qualities, but are also different from each other. What differences do you see? How does each woman feel about the past and its legacy? Is this an important difference?

d. The endings of "Old Esther Dudley" and The House of the Seven Gables  present different outcomes for these two women. Look closely at the excerpts from the endings. How does each work offer a comment on the relationship between past and present? Which outcome do you prefer and why?

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