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Scarlet Letter (1850)


This work was first begun by Nathaniel Hawthorne as a short story, but became too long so was temporarily put aside until it was later finished as a book. The story was based on an entry from Hawthorne's notebooks: "The life of a woman, who by an old colony law, was condemned to wear the letter "A" sewed on her garment, in token of her having committed adultery."

An excerpt from the Introduction to the 1850 edition:

He [Judge Hathorne] made himself so conspicuous
in the martyrdom of the witches that their blood
may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him...
I know not whether these ancestors of mine bethought
themselves to repent, and ask pardon of heaven for
their cruelities...At all events, I, the present
writer, as their representative, hereby take shame
upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse
incurred by them...may be now and henceforth removed.


The story takes place in New England during the period of 1642- 1649. The story evolves around the lives of Hester Prynne and her illegitimate daughter Pearl; Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister, who fathered the child; and Roger Chillingsworth, Hester's elder and selfish husband, who came to the colony from England disguised as a doctor to torment Dimmesdale into confessing that he was Pearl's father. In the end, Dimmesdale does publicly confess his sin, and finds the peace which his silence denied him, in the same marketplace where Hester's shame begun. But, Hester who never privately admits her act was a sin and finds no peace within herself. Yet, for both her and Dimmesdale their sin brings a somber maturing of their souls which amounts to "a modern equivalent of the more godlike future, foretold by the archangel Michael in John Milton's Paradise Lost, for man after the Fall." A.G.H.


Sources: 4, (Norman Holmes Pearson, Yale University) 61.