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The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

How to get an "A"
on your Scarlet Letter assignment


Yes, you have read or are reading the book. Any of the printed texts of this work are fine, and we do have some additional material at this site to help you understand the text. But our text here of The Scarlet Letter: A Romance is something entirely different, an experiment in online books that might cause you to attempt to read the entire book online afresh. You will not find anything like it on the Internet, we believe, though all books ought to be this way.

We are trying to use the computer here to help you read, understand, and appreciate this text. We are not trying to replace your paid teacher or English class. Everyone, no matter how experienced, deserves a human teacher. We do not serve that role. If you are looking for help writing a paper on this book and have no idea of how to do that, you need to discuss it with your instructor. You must spend several hours or days reading the text, looking up words in the dictionary, taking notes, and reading some secondary sources. Yes, this is a difficult novel for modern readers, and for many of you high school students might be the first hard book you attempt. PLEASE DO NOT LET IT BE THE LAST!

Some parents who have read this have complained that we do not motivate new readers. Motivation has to come from within, or from somewhere else--we cannot provide it, other than to make the text accessible for you. We are not trying to sell anything either--all this is free, take it or leave it.

Some parents and teachers have said that we demean you students. Instead, we are trying to challenge you. Some of you students need to have older people ask you to do something hard, that you might fail at. When you succeed, you will be thankful. This is why your work must be your own. In future years you don't want anyone to produce a copy of any e-mail that you might send someone asking for help, and demonstrate that you were cheating here. Besides, teachers can read these pages themselves and compare it with what you turn in. We've received mail from desperate students every day for several years now! If the query ever showed that the student had read the words we'd be pleased --but it never does, so we just throw it away--DON'T SEND E-MAIL requesting help. Evidently some people think that the Internet gives them anonymity and that they cannot read a book online. We are not paid to be your teacher, we are just computer experts and amateurs otherwise.

Millions of people have read this book and you can do so successfully too. Perhaps some other students in your class will give up and not do the work of reading the book--don't be one of them. If there is a moral to The Scarlet Letter, surely it is this: "Be true to yourself."

The movie "The Scarlet Letter" is completely different from this book. Don't expect to skip reading the book by watching the video.

We do not think you are one of the crybabies, but please give your fellow students the message. If you really need help and your teacher is not responsive, you can try to find some other site on the WWW or chat room that allows you to turn in someone else's work, and you can buy Cliffs Notes or some other material if you are desperate. However, in both cases you'll spend more time and work than you would if you just read the book, and you still would have cheated only yourself by not understanding it. If you have a question you can't research yourself, then make your teacher earn his or her pay--after you have done your part too and read the book carefully.

This web site cannot replace, then, a good teacher, and informed classroom discussion. (Yes, we used to have a Discussion area, but it degenerated into mindless requests for help, and more material for the mindless to copy--which is also why we stopped the Essay Contest.)

What we can do to help you here is try to give you some resources so the book becomes a bit more accessible than it would be if someone just handed you a printed copy. This online text is probably unique--with no other text do you have a reader over your shoulder this way. We suggest you start reading with the preface (or Chapter 1 if your teacher allows you to skip the Introduction). Then select links in the text as you go, at the time you need assistance in understanding the words or ideas.

As you read the text you may want to look up something for which we have provided a link. Since we've turned off underlining and link colors to enhance readability of the text, you need to play Minesweeper and move the mouse pointer over the text area until the arrow turns into a hand. Another method, for Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 users, is to press the TAB key repeatedly and each link will be outlined. There are Notes pages for each chapter, but you have to open the chapter page and read the text, not just read the notes.

These web pages, especially once the windows start flying around, might be difficult for a new web browser user to handle. We provide a ?Help? page with hints on how to make the most of your limited online time--(not with help on how to write your Hawthorne paper, sorry!)--and some suggestions on how to make proper citations.

We also provide a single text file including all chapters of the book. You can download this 458KB file and then use your word processor to search for instances of words, such as how many times Hawthorne uses the word "dusky" (we found eight, plus "duskiness") and in what context. We don't provide a single HTML file for the whole book, because that would be too large for many users, with all the added links we make.

Incidentally, few people will care whether you like the book or characters or not, when you are writing a serious paper about it. You are not the author nor a book critic, you are trying to learn something from the book. What we feel is lacking in many student papers is not a wealth of reporting on secondary sources, but rather strong indications that the student did not like the book, perhaps did not like the chore of reading the book, and therefore has decided not to engage her own feelings with the text, and not to produce a good paper which reflects those feelings. If you are writing a paper you do have to cite sources in the text or other works that back up your conclusions, but you should look for those after you have studied the text carefully. We do have some online criticism, but you should look for it after you have read the book carefully and decided on your topic.

Don't forget to take notes in a text editor window as you read, and type in questions as they occur to you, then try to answer them later. Assemble your notes, choose a topic, make an outline, and check your citations (see our help page if your teacher hasn't told you how to do that). Think about it a lot and flesh out your paper. You'll get an A for sure! "Be true! Be true!"

OKAY, START READING NOW! (and don't be alarmed if a new window appears with the text--if you use it we can keep track of links back and forth between windows)

Please send your own contributions or corrections:
Last updated: Mon Sep 27 16:44:58 EDT 1999
©Copyright 1999 Eric Eldred - see license
From Eldritch Press's Nathaniel Hawthorne Home Page -