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The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter

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  1. The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne

  2. “On the front of Hester Prynne’s gown, in fine red cloth, was the letter A. It was surrounded by fancy designs in gold thread. Chapter 2

  3. Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864

  4. Nathaniel Hawthorne • 1804-Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4 in Salem, Massachusetts. He was the descendent of a long line of Puritan ancestors. • 1808- His father was lost at sea on a voyage in Dutch Guinea. His mother became overly protective and pushed him toward more isolated pursuits. He became shy and bookish, and molded his life as a writer. • 1822- He attended Bowdoin College. Among his classmates and friends were many of the important literary and political figures of the day. • 1829-Wrote several short stories and unsuccessful novels. 1842-Married Sophia Peabody and moved to Concord, where they befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. • 1845- Returned to Salem and was appointed manager of the Boston Custom-House • 1849-Lost his post for political reasons. • 1850-Wrote The Scarlet Letter, which was an immediate success. 1864-Died after a long illness in which he suffered severe bouts of dementia.

  5. Hawthorne doubted that the public would enjoy his work. He wrote, “The Scarlet Letter is powerfully written; but my writings do not, nor ever will, appeal to the broadest class of sympathies, and therefore will not obtain a very wide popularity." 

  6. Background-The Scarlet Letter (cont.) • He could not have been more wrong. The March 1850 first edition was sold out within ten days. • Second and third editions were printed and the novel was immensely popular throughout the United States. • The Scarlet Letter represents Hawthorne's best work. It remains relevant today for its universal themes.

  7. Literary Critic George Macy wrote: “As a somber romance of the conscience, The Scarlet Letter represents the first great psychological novel in American literature.”

  8. The Novel • Hester Prynne's conviction of adultery creates a powerful tale of the consequences of breaking a moral code. • Hawthorne investigates how guilt and sin affect a character’s mind. • Hawthorne concentrates on the darker, often hidden areas of the human mind, the thought processes and emotions that occur within the an individual.

  9. Hester Prynne • Literary scholars have hailed Hester Prynne as the first true heroine of American literature. • Hawthorne characterizes her as a whole person--woman, mother, sinner, and member of the community--rather than a stereotype, as so many writers of that time cast their female characters. • Hawthorne boldly discusses topics that some readers of the time might have found shocking, such as guilt, adultery, and social judgment.

  10. Historical Context- The Puritans • The Scarlet Letter takes place in the Puritan settlement of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642. • The Puritans took their name from their desire to “purify” the Church of England by strictly adhering to the belief that the Bible tells individuals how to behave. • They believed that human nature is evil and mankind is doomed to eternal damnation with the exception of a certain elect few. • Many Puritans traveled from England to the American colonies to gain religious freedom and establish new lives.

  11. Historical Context- The Puritans (cont.) • The government of Massachusetts was not a democracy, but a theocracy--a state governed by its church. • The ministers--the officials of the church--were not actually political leaders, but they held great power and influence over all church members. • Ministers’ interpretations of the Bible and moral codes of conduct applied to all residents of the colony. • Laws in colonial Massachusetts covered everything from swearing to excessive decoration on women's caps to murder. • Whipping, branding, and other forms of public humiliation were relatively common practices in the colonies. • Hester Prynne's punishment was mild by Puritan standards.

  12. Characters: Real vs. Fiction The residents of Boston in the mid-1600s were much as Hawthorne depicts them--hardworking and devoted to their way of life. Hawthorne created a fictional story, but added numerous characters from local history to flesh it out.

  13. Fictional Characters Hester Prynne- a young English woman who comes to Boston while her husband stays behind in Amsterdam, where they had been living, to settle business matters. Pearl- the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne. RogerChillingworth- scholar and healer Arthur Dimmesdale- young pastor of Hester’s congregation.

  14. Historical Characters Richard Bellingham- arrived in Boston in 1634 and was elected governor in 1641, 1654, 1665. Mistress Hibbins executed for witchcraft in 1656, sister of Governor Bellingham. John Winthrop (1588-1649) He was elected governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony 12 times between 1630 and 1649. Believing that the colony could be more effectively governed by a few learned and pious leaders, he opposed an unlimited democracy.

  15. Film Adaptations

  16. 1926 Silent Film Version

  17. 1926 Silent Film starring Lillian Gish as Hester

  18. Poster for the 1965 version of the film

  19. 1979 Mini-Series made by British PBS Affiliate

  20. 1995 Film starring Demi Moore