Concerning Chapter Titles

06 Mar

In the WEM‘s section titled “How to Read A Novel,” readers are asked to pay attention to the table of contents of each book.  Susan Wise Bauer explains that it makes a difference whether a novel has chapter titles or not.

Don Quixote has many short chapters; the chapter titles (“The prophesying ape,” “The puppet show,” “The braying adventure,” “Concerning a squire’s wages”) tell you that the story will unfold as a series of separate, brief events.  The chapter titles of The Scarlet Letter (“Hester and the Physician,” “Hester and Pearl,” “The Minister in a Maze”) introduce you to the story’s main characters.  In both cases the chapter titles tell you how to approach the book.  Don Quixote is an episodic adventure; The Scarlet Letter is an examination of character.

My copy of The Scarlet Letter does not have a table of contents, but the chapters do have titles.  Chapter three is called “Recognition.”  Hester stands on the scaffold, holding infant Pearl.  She notices a stranger.  Hawthorne paints a description of the character without revealing his name.  Hester does not need the narrator to name this man she immediately (as the chapter aptly says) recognizes.  It is such as shock to her that she “presses her infant to her bosom with so convulsive a force that the poor babe uttered another cry of pain.”

The other instance of recognition in this chapter comes toward the end when the man shouts out from the crowd, “Speak; and give you child a father!”  Here, Hawthorne tells us Hester recognized the man’s voice.

Tell me, first-time-readers, who did you suspect this man was when you reached chapter three?


Posted by on March 6, 2012 in The Scarlet Letter


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4 responses to “Concerning Chapter Titles

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    March 6, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I admit, I didn’t know. I figured he knew her, because he referred to her by her full name and then said something like, “Is that her name?”. But it didn’t come to me right away.

    Thank you for the reminder about the importance of chapter titles! Helpful post.

    • Christine

      March 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      I was curious what others thought. I read TSL in high school and remembered too much of the story to be objective. Rereading it… all sorts of “hints” jumped out at me, but I wasn’t sure what a 1st timer would make of the story.

  2. Christina Joy

    March 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Despite the fact that I read this in high school, I’m afraid I fall into the “first-time reader” category. I remembered next to nothing. But, the back of my book told me that’s who it was. And SWB says we’re supposed to read the back of the book, right? Otherwise, I probably would have been pretty surprised later.

    I did remember that Dimmesdale was the father, though. I wonder how far I would have gotten before I figured that out. Hmmmmm . . . I have very little faith in my deductive senses.

    • Christine

      March 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      I think you would have figured it out pretty quickly. Even if you weren’t sure about Rev AD being the father, we don’t get too many other options as far as characters go. My character list was rather short for this book which is good since a year later I’m still recovering from DQ’s lengthy list.


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