Custom House in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Essay

481 Words 2 Pages
In the "Custom House," written as an introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne gives an
autobiographical description of his life and times. The detailed descriptions of the scenes and
people not only prepare the reader for the author's style, but also aim at recreating the author's
past. The preface concentrates on the author's period of service at the Custom House during
which time he came into contact with several people and had the opportunity to study human
behavior. The description of his co-employees and others shows the author's deft hand at
characterization, which is revealed during the novel. Further, the preface serves the purpose of
giving a background to the novel and introduces America's Puritanical ancestors.
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The
reference to the discovery of the scarlet letter and some papers referring to the incident of a
woman condemned like Hester is to strengthen the author's claim of the authenticity of the story.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: The Prison Door

The first chapter gives a description of the dark and gloomy nature of the prison that was
established in the "vicinity of Cornhill" by the early settlers. The prison is described as an "ugly
edifice" and "black flower of civilized society". Weeds grow in front of the gloomy structure,
where a group of Puritans, dressed normally in their dull clothing, has gathered. The only
positive image in the whole setting is a single rosebush that stands beside the weeds. It
foreshadows that there will be some brightness amidst this "tale of human frailty and sorrow."

Notes

The purpose of this opening chapter is to set the scene for the novel in seventeenth century
Boston. A crowd of Puritans has gathered at the prison and as always, they wear "sad-colored"
clothing. The description of the dark and gloomy prison sets the mood for the entire story and
foreshadows the situations of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. She is outwardly
"imprisoned" for her sin through her alienation and isolation; he is inwardly "imprisoned" by his
mental anguish and deterioration. Hawthorne obviously chooses to begin his novel with a prison,
an appropriate symbol for the punishment that the…