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In early colonial Massachusetts, a young woman endures the consequences of her sin of adultery and spends the rest of her life in atonement.
A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule, it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison-house somewhere in the vicinity of Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is, that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pigweed, apple-peru, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilized society, aprison. But, on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.
This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally over-shadowed it,-or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Anne Hutchinson, as she entered the prison-door,-we shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.
The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the inhabitants of Boston, all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any other population, or at a later period in the history of New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people would have augured some awful business in hand. It could have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execution of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan character, an inference of this kind could not so indubitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be, that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanor on the part of the spectators; as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for from such by-standers, at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty, which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.
It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morally, as well as materially, there was a coarser fibre in those wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, than in their fair descendants, separated from them by a series of six or seven generations; for, throughout that chain of ancestry, every successive mother has transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not a character of less force and solidity, than her own. The women who were now standing about the prison-door stood within less than half a century of the period when the man-like Elizabeth1 had been the not altogether unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her countrywomen; and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered largely into their composition. The bright morning sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-developed busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks, that had ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England. There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether in respect to its purport or its volume of tone.
"Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, "I'll tell ye a
piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!"
"People say," said another, "that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon his congregation."
"The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch,--that is a truth," added a third autumnal matron. "At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,-the naughty baggage,-little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!"
"Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, "let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart."
"What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead?" cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges. "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray!"
"Mercy on us, goodwife," exclaimed a man in the crowd, "is there no virtue in woman, save what springs from a wholesome fear of the gallows? That is the hardest word yet! Hush, now, gossips! for the lock is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress Prynne herself."
The door of the jail being flung open from within, there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and grisly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young woman, whom he thus drew forward; until, on the threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.
When the young woman-the mother of this child-stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.
The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is now recognized as its indication. And never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped. It may be true, that, to a sensitive observer, there was something exquisitely painful in it. Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer,-so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time,-was that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated5 upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.
"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it! Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment?"
"It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the old dames, "if we stripped Madam Hester's rich gown off her dainty shoulders; and as for the red letter, which she hath stitched so curiously, I'll bestow a rag of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one!"
"Oh, peace, neighbors, peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart."
The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff.
"Make way, good people, make way, in the King's name!" cried he. "Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine! Come along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!"
Introduction Michael J. Colacurcio Colacurcio, Michael J.
History in The Scarlet Letter
Note on the Text
Chronology of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Life
The Scarlet Letter
Posted September 2, 2005
the book was required reading for my 11th grade lit class, it is the dullest book Ive ever read, if you like the plain stlye writing then maybe you will like this book as for all the other people who like books to grab your attention leave this book on the shelf...2 stars for the story behind the boring book
10 out of 29 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2000
The Scarlett Letter is about a woman named Hester Pyrnne who is forced to live with the fact that she had a child out of wedlock. Although she is faced with many trials along her journey throughout life she still overcomes all of them to become a good mother to her child. This novel portrays many things; one of the more important things, which it portrays, is the love Hester shows toward Pearl (her daughter) throughout the entire novel. She may be sorry for her actions forever, but one thing is for sure, she will never be sorry for the consequences of those actions. The main theme of this novel is a tale of judgement, shame and redemption.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2008
I was excitedly anticipating the reading of the book for my AP Literature class. Although once I began reading it, I was dulled and could not wait for it to be over. Hathorne's endless descriptions and the predictable plot are enough to make someone a Rip Van Winkle. After reading the first few chapters, I predicted the entire plot. The book coincidentally ended exactly how I thought it would! Do not waste your time reading this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 2, 2007
Humanity is at its very best tainted with sin. Our shortcomings, misdoings, and pride are all too obvious to those around us. In this compelling tale of woe, Hawthorne invites readers to closely inspect their own souls through the eyes of a condemned adulteress. It is through Hester's eyes that the reader witnesses the wounds of humanity, be they in the form of judgment, shame, or hypocrisy. The ending to this tale is really found within the hearts of the readers. Enjoy!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 24, 2006
In the book The Scarlet Letter, a young lady named Hester Prynne believes that her husband has died at sea, so she has an affair that result¿s into her giving birth to her beautiful daughter, Pearl. She is forced to wear the scarlet letter ¿A¿ on her bosom as a reminder of her wrong doings. Her husband, who ends up not being dead, comes back to her town disguised and wants revenge on his wife¿s seducer, who we later discover is Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. The characters in Hawthorne¿s story are confused and broken hearted. The characters all have to fight within themselves to figure out what is the right thing to do. Hester Prynne is a confused single mother who is forced to be cursed by the scarlet letter on her bosom that reminds her of her sins. She gives birth to a mysterious little girl named Pearl, but she will not reveal the father of this child. Mr. Dimmesdale, who we later find out is the father of Pearl, is quiet and afraid of what will happen to him if he reveals himself as Pearl¿s dad. Roger Chillingworth, Hester¿s ¿dead¿ husband, is over come with anger and wants revenge on his wife¿s seducer. Hawthorne also uses description in this book. He creates a picture of what is happening in the story and the emotions of the characters. The reader will be able to tell that he puts great feeling and thought into this book to make it what it is. The Scarlet Letter is a great book to read! Be prepared to get sucked into the book and feel like you are there in the small Puritan New England community with Hester. Read The Scarlet Letter to find out more. You won¿t be disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2006
The scarlet letter was a very intriguing book and I enjoyed the begining and the middle of the book. The end of the book was not very exciting as the begining , mainly because I was suspecting a twist ending or something crazy. Nathaniel Hawthorne really made the main character Hester Pryne an adulterer, very noble because she wasn't all full of sin , she wasn't a bad person she was actually very strong willed, and able to carry her burdens that she caused. The book overall was great and I enjoyed it very much , I just wasnted a diiferent ending.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2006
If i was writing this review solely based on if i enjoyed reading it or not, then it would have to be a one. The story line of the Scarlet Letter was pretty decent, but the style of writing that Hawthorne uses does not appeal to me as a student in high school. This book is a classic and should be read by anyone who appreciates a good story and a very descriptive writing style would enjoy this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 31, 2006
I didn't enjoy the book as I read it but in retrospect and analysis, it was excellent. You are capable of veiwing the themes and symbols deeply or at face value. The story itself leaves something to be desired in depth but the plot is in there, as well as many elements for literary analysis. When reading it, I found it absolutly necessary to really consider the difference in time period between then and now. It was a good book overall, one that deserves to be discussed and not read and forgotten.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2005
This book had aa interesting story line, but it was not my favorite book. IF you are in to books set back in the 1600's then you should read the book. Also, if you like books that have to do with the puritan life style, then you should read the book. The book does teach you alot of lesons about life. The author was a great writter, it is not my style of book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 31, 2005
This is the second time I have read The Sacrlet Letter, it is a fairly good story but is sort of hard to read and way to streched out in my oppinion. Due to the time period the language used is sort of hard to understand and takes a while to figure out what certain words and phrases mean. I do not suggest anyone to read this book just because of the strange language used and I just think it is sort of boreing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 1, 2006
This book is a classic. All the character names have symbolism to them so think about the names like Dimmesdale or Chillingsworth. Think about what a Pearl is and compare it to Pearl. This book captures the true story of the author's down the line grandmother who had to wear a letter A on her chest because she committed adultery. As you read the story the letter A comes to mean something else. Darkness is an important concept in the novel. You should read- The Crucible to make a comparison.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2005
The Scarlett Letter was one of the best pieces of literature I have read in a long time. Hawthorne was absolutely genius with how he portrayed the characters and how he used light and colors to set the mood of the book. Although the book was a little bit predictable, it is a classic of the ages.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 9, 2005
I really didnt like this book at all, but it teaches a good lesson. It would be good for someone who really likes a romance. If you like reading about the puritan times and if you know alot about the begining of the colonies then you would like it. I personally don't but it does have a good meaning. It starts out a bit boring but then once you get into it then it will start to get a little better. It's about sin, evil doing, sadness, religion, and love.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 21, 2005
Just as 'Harry Potter' speaks of our values today, we must use 'The Scarlet Letter' to feel first-hand the old values that have shaped the very view-points we now hold. Without the scorn of 'A' then, there'd be no Womens' 'Lib' now!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2005
I would say I did enjoy this novel. At first the beginning of the story it was a bit boring and did not catch my attention, but as I read on, It got interesting. This story is about love, sin, and evil. If that is something you¿ll be interested in, then this book is right for you. The text difficulty is a bit on the moderate level. I had a little trouble comprehending the story but it did not stop me from reading. Overall I¿ll give this story a 3 ½ out of 5 because this is not my type of book but again it was fun to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2005
Unless your really into studying the English language, this book is very difficult to read. It's a great story but I got a lot more out of seeing the movie than reading the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 6, 2005
Posted September 13, 2005
OKAY, this book was pretty hard to get into during the first few pages .. but then it gradually got better .. and now, it's one of my all-time favorite!!! the language made the book more difficult to understand, especially when I had to find all of the symbols by myself [it's a summer assignment]. Other than that, I love the book!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2005
Like many I read this book because it was 'required reading' for a class. The book is extremely dull and boring. I give it 2 stars, instead of one, due to its originality and at rare times unpredictability. Some works live up to their reputation but not this one. Avoid if you can.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 9, 2005
If you're not interested in literature of this work's time period you're probably not going to like 'The Scarlet Letter'. But if you can appreciate the language and how poignantly it is written, I think you'll come to enjoy this book as I have. In the first chapter Hawthorne describes part of a prison-door by stating: '...on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.' Now that is poetry!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.