The Scarlet Letter - Notes

The Scarlet Letter
- Notes

Author's Background:

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem,

Massachusetts on July 4th, 1804. Hawthorne lived poor due to his father's
death when he was four, but he was helped by relatives and enrolled in
college where he displayed an interest in writing. In college, he met a
friend who would prove to be an invaluable help Franklin Pierce, future

President of the United States. In 1825 he graduated and lived with his
uncle in Salem for 12 years, devoting his time to reading, writing, and
scrapping for publication. He spewed out several stories, but few sold
for over $35 each. In 1837 Hawthorne took a job in the Custom-House in

Boston. He grew bored with this work and the people around him, however,
up to the point where he wrote The Custom House as an introduction to The

Scarlet Letter. In this introduction he showed the dull life of working
in a custom house. From the Custom-House, he left for Brooke Farm.

During his time at Brooke Farm, he met
such thinkers as Emmerson and Thoreau. He also met and courted Sophia Peabody,
and left Brooke Farm with her in 1842 to stay at "Old Manse", the Emmerson
homestead. When Emmerson returned to Old Manse, Hawthorne left and went
to Salem to live with Sophia. From this point, Hawthorne won a job at the

Salem Custom-House due to a political appointment from his college friend

Franklin Pierce. However, when the political winds changed to Zachary Taylor,
he lost his job and devoted himself to writing at his wife's insistence.

The result was The Scarlet Letter, which was the beginning of a successful
series of books including The House of Seven Gables in 1851, The Blithedale

Romance in 1852, and Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls in 1853. With
this success and the aid of President Franklin Pierce, he was appointed
as US consul to Liverpool, England. This was a reward for writing Pierce's

Hawthorne's final years are sketchy. On
a voyage back to Plymouth, New Hampshire, he became deathly ill and died
on May 19, 1864. He was buried on Concord, Massachusetts.

Literary Period and Setting

Literary Period: Romanticism and Transcendentalism

Setting: Boston, Massachusetts. USA 1842-1849


Hester Prynne

A) Hester was a beautiful young woman
who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She is proud and strong, but commits
the sin of adultery with Reverend Dimmesdale while her husband is supposedly
in England finishing up some work. Pearl is the product of this sin and

Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her bosom for the rest
of her life to show her sin. Isolated from the community, Hester is forced
to rise a step higher than average for respect in the Puritan community.

B) Hester is motivated by her loves for

Pearl and Dimmesdale and by her belief in the Puritan values.

C) In the end, Hester's letter begins
to mean "able" to the townspeople in place of "adulteress". After her husband's
death, she takes Pearl away from Boston, but returns to live out her life
with the letter according to Puritan code.

Reverend Dimmesdale

A) The young minister of Boston. He commits
adultery with the young Hester Prynne.

He is forced to go through life with the
secret knowledge of the crime he has committed and convinces himself that
this is the only way. He tells himself that people look up to him for moral
and spiritual support and he must be perfect in their eyes. However, at
home, he fasts and scourges himself to make penitence for his sin.

B) His guilt, as well as his belief in

Puritan values and his inner turmoil are his motivating factors.

C) Dimmesdale finally reveals himself
on the scaffold to Boston as the sinner who had committed adultery with

Hester Prynne. He then promptly dies, freed from his inner burden.


A) Pearl was the child brought about by

Hester and Dimmesdale's sin. She was brought up by her mother, but never
fully adapted to Puritan ways. Because of her energy and her origins, Pearl
was not accepted by other children. Pearl was a rebellious child throughout
her life, serving constantly as a reminder to her mother of the sin she
and Dimmesdale shared.

B) Pearl was motivated by her energy,
free spirit, and love of nature.

C) Pearl ends up inheriting a large amount
of land from the will of Roger Chillingworth and is one of the richest
heiresses in America. Her mother takes her to England and Pearl is never
seen again in the colonies.

Roger Chillingworth

A) Chillingworth was Hester's husband
who was away in England. Due to shipwreck and Indian confinement, he enters
the colony long after