The scarlet letter
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The Scarlet Letter. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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The scarlet letter

The Scarlet Letter

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel hawthorne
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

About the Author

The custom house
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.

Historical context
Historical Context

  • Boston Colony founded in 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 inpredestinationor Doctrine of the Elect

  • Inflicted public punishments to deter others from straying from righteousness (hanging, whipping, humiliation, etc,)

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
Point of View

  • Third-Person Omniscient…Hawthorne reveals the inner and outer workings of the characters and provides social criticism, history, and psychology.


  • 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
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…