Scarlet letter

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Chapter One: The Prison Door


A large crowd of Puritans stands outside of the prison, waiting for the door to open. The prison is described as a, "wooden jail...already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front." The iron on the prison is rusting and creates an overall appearance of decay.

Outside of the building, next to the door, a rosebush stands in full bloom. Hawthorne remarks that it is possible, "this rosebush...had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison door." He then plucks one of the roses and offers it to the reader as a "moral blossom" to be found later in the story.


This opening chapter introduces several of the images and themes within the story to follow. These images will recur in several settings and serve as metaphors for the underlying conflict.

The prison represents several different symbols. Foremost it is a symbol for the Puritanical severity of law. The description of the prison indicates that it is old, rusted, yet strong with an "iron-clamped oaken door." This represents the rigorous enforcement of laws and the inability to break free of them.

The prison also serves as a metaphor for the authority of the regime, which will not tolerate deviance. Hawthorne directly challenges this notion by throwing the name Ann Hutchinson into the opening pages. Hutchinson was a religious woman who disagreed with the Puritanical teachings, and as a result was imprisoned in Boston. Hawthorne claims that it is possible the beautiful rosebush growing directly at the prison door sprang from her footsteps. This implies that the Puritanical authoritarianism may be too rigid, to the point of obliterating things of beauty.

The rosebush is a...