The Scarlet Letter

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate August 2001

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Summary chapters 1&2 These two chapters set the opening scene: 17th-century America, one June morning, Boston, a city in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where religion is the foundation for both law and society. The first chapter ends on the image of a rosebush, and the writer suggests one of its blooms can "symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow." On this stage, Hester Prynne emerges from the dark prison door to make her way to the scaffold where she will be publicly condemned. Holding a baby, she makes her way proudly through a crowd of scornful onlookers who are surprised at the brilliant letter "A" embroidered in gold thread on her chest. As she walks, she recalls her past: she was born to a house of "antique gentility" in Europe, married to a physically "misshapen" scholar, taken first by her husband to Amsterdam and then sent to America.

She cannot believe that she is really suffering such shame. She never imagined that she would be the mother of an illegitimate child, made to wear a public token of her sin, and subject to the town's humiliation.

Commentary The narrator opens his novel not by praising the idealism of the Puritan colony's founding fathers, but by pointing out its weaknesses: the necessity of cemeteries and prisons, the necessity of punishing sin. When the author points out the rose bloom, it is bittersweet--not only does the rose's beauty come with a price (the thorns), but it is also, after all, next to a prison door. As Christians believe human history on earth begins with the "fall" of Adam and Eve, the Boston that the narrator introduces to us is already "fallen." This opening...