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The Scarlet Letter Introduction: The Custom House

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1 The Scarlet Letter Introduction: The Custom House
Mrs. Wallace

2 Chapter Summary Four significant goals of the preface
Outlines autobiographical information about the author Conflict of writing fiction Defines the Romance novel Authenticates the novel

3 Chapter Summary Nameless narrator working in a Salem “Customs House” finds a manuscript among a pile of old documents. The manuscript is bundled together with a gold embroidered scarlet cloth in the shape of the letter A. Narrator holds the letter A to his chest but drops it because it burns him. Manuscript is the work of Jonathan Pue (custom surveyor 100 years before) Pue, taking an interest in local history, wrote an account of the events taking place 100 years before his time (200 years before narrator’s time).

4 John Pue-Historical Record
Frame Story Unnamed narrator decides to tell the story John Pue-Historical Record Hester Prynne

5 Major Character: The Narrator
Unnamed narrator Young man politically appointed as a surveyor Bored with his job and wants to do something more After finding the documents of Hester Prynne’s life wants to write a fictional account of her life Feels her life’s story is worth sharing

6 The Narrator Cont. Narrator bears many similarities to Hawthorne himself Tries to write the story, but feels conflicted He is stuck in a job with no creativity and surrounded by old men that would not approve of “fiction” After political changes lead to his losing his job, he feels free to write Hester’s story He resembles Hester in that they are both free spirits that are stifled by their “Puritan” surroundings

7 Theme: Conflict between past and present
“’What is he?’ murmurs one gray shadow of my forefather’s to the other. ‘ A writer of story-books! What kind of business in life,--what mode of glorying God or being serviceable to mankid in his day and generation—may that be? Why the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!’” (Hawthorne 10). Displays the attitude of Hawthorne’s Puritan ancestors and the general disdain for fiction writing and the importance on holding a position that is well looked upon and provides for the greater good.

8 Critique Pease, Donald E. "Hawthorne In The Custom-House: The Metapolitics, Postpolitics, And Politics Of The Scarlet Letter." Boundary (2005): Literary Reference Center. Web. 26 Aug

9 Critique Summary Donald Pease points out that Hawthorne uses humor to satirize his ancestors’ hypocrisy The custom house is “haunted” by the ghost of Surveyor Pue Pue, unable to properly tell Hester’s story “speaks” to the narrator through the scarlet letter Hawthorne used The Scarlet Letter as an “anti-curse” to remove the power of the Puritans to make such dreadful pronouncements against others Hawthorne also uses “The Custom House” as a means to air his concern about the political unrest that he was a victim of

10 Critique Response Pease gives the audience an inside look to Hawthorne’s conflicts with his life Hawthorne was ashamed of the persecution so many experienced at the hands of his ancestors He used the narrator as a way to excuse himself of the “crime” of writing fiction The Custom House serves as a vehicle to speak out politically, religiously, and to set up similarities between himself, the narrator, and Hester Prynne.

11 What if? What if Nathaniel Hawthorne would have left “The Custom House” out of the novel? I believe that there would not a an emotional connection. Knowing the background of Hawthorne the reader is able to understand the frustration, hurt, and satirical language that he feels and uses.

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