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The Scarlet Letter
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The Scarlet Letter

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  • 1. A The Scarlet Letter
  • 2.
    • Hawthorne opens The Scarlet Letter just outside the prison of what, in the early 1640s, was the village of Boston.
    The Prison-Door
  • 3.
    • Ask yourself what you know about a novel that begins in a prison?
    The Prison-Door
  • 4.
    • You probably suspect you are reading the story of a crime already committed, of characters whose lives are already darkened by guilt and disgrace….
    The Prison-Door
  • 5.
    • And, in the case of The Scarlet Letter…
    • ... you are quite right.
    The Prison-Door
  • 6. The Prison-Door
    • Look carefully at the details of the opening scene: “The sad-colored garments” of the spectators; the prison-door itself, “Heavily timbered with and studded with iron spikes.
  • 7. The Prison-Door
    • These details create a somber mood; they paint a cheerless picture. And they hint, as well, at a society that places punishment far above forgiveness on its scale of values.
  • 8. The Prison-Door
    • One note of color relieves the gloom. A wild rose bush Blossoms by the prison door.
    • The rose bush suggests a world beyond the narrow confines of the puritan community.
  • 9. The Prison-Door
    • A world where beauty and vibrant color flourish and crime finds tolerance and pity.
  • 10. The Scarlet Letter
    • Upon finishing The Scarlet Letter in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne read the manuscript to his wife, Sophia.
  • 11. The Scarlet Letter
    • “ It broke her heart,” Hawthorne wrote, “and “sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.”
  • 12.
    • Hawthorne originally intended The Scarlet Letter to be a short story but expanded it at the suggestion of his publisher.
    The Scarlet Letter Original Cover
  • 13.
    • The Scarlet Letter is peopled with characters who are meant to be the embodiments of moral traits, rather than realistic, living figures.
    The Scarlet Letter
  • 14.
    • The Scarlet Letter displays Hawthorne lifelong preoccupation with the themes of secrecy and guilt, the conflict between intellectual and moral pride, and the lingering effects of Puritanism.
    The Scarlet Letter Original title page
  • 15. The Scarlet Letter
    • The year is 1642.
    • The place is Boston, a small Puritan settlement. Before the town jail, a group of somber people wait with stern expressions.
  • 16. The Plot
    • They are expecting Hester Prynne, a woman convicted of adultery.
  • 17. The Scarlet Letter
    • You will not know it yet. But even this early, Hawthorne has marked the thematic boundaries of his novel:
      • law and nature
      • repression and freedom
  • 18. The Scarlet Letter
    • “ The Market Place” is some curtain-raiser. In one vivid image, you have the whole story. The lines of conflict are drawn, the issues defined, the characters placed in relation to one another.
  • 19. The Scarlet Letter
    • The image Hawthorne gives us is that of a young woman taken in adultery, and standing on a scaffold in the midst of a hostile crowd.
  • 20. The Scarlet Letter
    • This is Puritan Boston, where private wrongdoing is
    • public knowledge.
  • 21. Credits
    • Much of the text was taken from Barron’s Notes on the Scarlet Letter.
    • The graphics were scanned from an Illustrated Comic of the Scarlet Letter, screen shots from School Discovery.com, and the Hawthorne pages.