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Background Notes (“notes section” of notebook):

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1 Background Notes (“notes section” of notebook):
The Scarlet Letter Background Notes (“notes section” of notebook): Please use Cornell notes format with 3 study questions and a summary for EVERY PAGE

2 Nathaniel Hawthorne

3 I. Background on Nathaniel Hawthorne
A. Born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts B. His father died of yellow fever when he was four years old C. Hawthorne, his mother, and his sisters lived with his mother’s relatives after his father’s death D. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1825

4 E. He returned to Salem where he struggled as a short story writer for 12 years
F. In 1842, he married Sophia Peabody G. He published The Scarlet Letter in 1850, which finally brought him recognition as an author H. He died on May 16, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire

5 II. Hawthorne’s Literary Times
A. Wrote during the Romantic Period 1. return to nature 2. belief in goodness of humanity 3. rediscovery of artist as a supremely individual creator 4. exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and intellect

6 Example of art from the Romantic Period
The Lady of Shallot (1888)

7 B. The Romantic Period lasted from 1830-1865
C. Literary contemporaries: Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Stowe, Poe, Whitman D. The Scarlet Letter is considered a piece of American Romantic literature because it is set in a remote past (the Puritan era 200 years prior to Hawthorne’s time) and because it deals with the interior psychology of individual characters E. Revolt against rationalism/logic

8 III. Historical Commentary
Puritans 1. A religious group that migrated from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England in the early 1600s 2. Believed in a “pure” interpretation of the Bible which did not include some of the traditional practices of the Church of England


10 3. Religion and government were closely intertwined
4. Ministers counseled the magistrates in all affairs concerning the settlement and its citizens 5. The Puritans had strict rules against theatre, religious music, sensuous poetry, and frivolous dress

11 6. Remember: The Puritans did not seek religious freedom for ALL; they still persecuted and banished individuals whose beliefs were different from their own

12 7. People were completely INTOLERANT of sin
7. People were completely INTOLERANT of sin. They believed that any sin committed in the community would cause God’s wrath to be visited on them. An illness or misfortune would show God’s disapproval.

13 8. Puritans looked for sins that had been committed in the community so that the sin could be brought out in the open and the members of the community could express their scorn for that sin. 9. Puritan theology valued hard work. Idleness was an invitation to sin.

14 IV. Themes A. Alienation B. Appearance versus reality
C. Breaking society’s rules D. Private versus public life E. Effects of revenge

15 V. Religious Terms repentance: deep sorrow for a sin
preternatural: out of the ordinary; supernatural contrition: sorrow for a sin, with a sincere desire to atone for it

16 (religious terms, contd.)
penance: punishment for a sin atonement: to make amends for a sin penitence: the state of being regretful for sinning

17 VI. Symbols A. the color black B. the forest C. the brook
D. the rosebush E. Indians

18 F. Hester’s clothing G. Pearl’s clothing H. Pearl’s name I. the meteor J. golden embroidery on the “A”

19 VII. Style (paraphrase!)
Hawthorne focuses his attention on the problem of evil and the NATURE OF SIN. He is not a moralist, but like a psychologist, he analyzes the inner world of the human mind and heart. In TSL, he analyzes the effects of ONE sin on the four main characters who are closely intertwined because of that sin.

20 Essential Question What is a sin? Is a crime against civil law necessarily a crime against moral law? (Remember Antigone’s dilemma?)

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