“I believe that The Scarlet Letter, like all great novels, enriches our sense of human experience and complicates and humanizes our approach to it.” from Solitude, Love, and Anguish: The Tragic Design of the Scarlet Letter by Seymour L. Gross
Historical Context Boston Colony founded 1630 John Winthrop (leader) Puritans wanted to “purify” the Church of England of all traces of Catholicism in liturgy, theology, and church organization Recognized the Bible as the sole source of religious authority Maintained a theocracy Believed in predestination or Doctrine of the Elect Inflicted public punishments to deter others from straying from righteousness (hanging, whipping, humiliation, etc,)
Nathaniel Hawthorne Hawthorne once said: “I do not want to be a doctor and live by man’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”
About the Author Born July 4, 1804 in Salem, Mass. Reclusive at times Served as a magazine editor Worked in the Salem Custom House Lived at Brook Farm Wrote Twice-Told Tales, The House of Seven Gables, The Scarlet Letter, etc. Married Sophia Peabody and fathered Una (who became the model for Pearl) Served as the United States Consul to Liverpool Died in 1864 Buried in Concord, Massachusetts Great-great-great- great grandfather, John Hathorne, was judge at Salem witch trials
Plot/Setting The novel is set in the mid 1600s in Boston, Massachusetts. The plot encompasses a seven year period. The plot involves the love triangle of wife-lover-husband. The major theme of the novel is developed in the context of good vs. evil.
Point of View Third-Person Omniscient …Hawthorne reveals the inner and outer workings of the characters and provides social criticism, history, and psychology.
Characters Hester Prynne - wearer of the scarlet letter Pearl - child of Hester; living symbol of Hester’s sin Roger Chillingworth - learned scholar; doctor Arthur Dimmesdale - admired young minister Governor Bellingham - governor and magistrate of Massachusetts Bay Colony Rev. John Wilson - senior minister of colony Mistress Hibbins - Gov. Bellingham’s sister
Major Symbol The scarlet letter itself is the central symbol. It changes meaning for the characters in the novel as Hester’s character changes. The A becomes a pathway to redemption for some characters as well. Watch the many ways Hawthorne uses the scarlet A as a symbol…
The Custom House Hawthorne claims to have gotten the idea for this novel from the papers of Jonathan Pue. Among the papers, Hawthorne allegedly found an embroidered scarlet A and information on Hester Prynne.
The Custom House Describes the interior/exterior of the Custom House Describes Hawthorne’s feelings about his native town of Salem Makes critical comments about the Whig party/ reveals Hawthorne’s involvement as a Democrat Describes his early attempts to write Hester’s story.