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The Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne On the front of Hester Prynne s gown, in fine red cloth, was the letter A. It was surrounded by fancy designs in gold ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
By Nathaniel Hawthorne
On the front of Hester Prynnes gown, in fine
red cloth, was the letter A. It was surrounded by
fancy designs in gold thread.
Chapter 2
Nathaniel Hawthorne
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
  • 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

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.
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." 
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
  • The Scarlet Letter represents Hawthorne's best
    work. It remains relevant today for its universal

Literary Critic George Macy wrote
As a somber romance of the conscience, The
Scarlet Letter represents the first great
psychological novel in American literature.
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
    characters mind.
  • Hawthorne concentrates on the darker, often
    hidden areas of the human mind, the thought
    processes and emotions that occur within the an

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
  • Hawthorne boldly discusses topics that some
    readers of the time might have found shocking,
    such as guilt, adultery, and social judgment.

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.

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
  • Ministers interpretations of the Bible and moral
    codes of conduct applied to all residents of the
  • 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

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. 
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.
Roger Chillingworth- scholar and healer
Arthur Dimmesdale- young pastor of Hesters
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.
Film Adaptations
1926 Silent Film Version
1926 Silent Film starring Lillian Gish as Hester
Poster for the 1965 version of the film
1979 Mini-Series made by British PBS Affiliate
1995 Film starring Demi Moore