The Scarlet LetterBy Nathaniel HawthorneNathaniel Hawthorne’s background influenced him to write the bold novel The Scarlet Letter. Oneimportant influence on the story is money. Hawthorne had never made much money as an author and thebirth of his first daughter added to the financial burden (“Biographical Note” VII). He received a job atthe Salem Custom House only to lose it three years later and be forced to write again to support hisfamily (IX).
Consequently, The Scarlet Letter was published a year later (IX). It was only intended to bea long short story, but the extra money a novel would bring in was needed (“Introduction” XVI). Hawthornethen wrote an introduction section titled “The Custom House” to extend the length of the book and TheScarlet Letter became a full novel (XVI).
In addition to financial worries, another influence on thestory is Hawthorne’s rejection of his ancestors. His forefathers were strict Puritans, and JohnHathorne, his great-great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the S!alem witch trials (“Biographical Note” VII). Hawthorne did not condone their acts and actually spent agreat deal of his life renouncing the Puritans in general (VII).
Similarly, The Scarlet Letter was aliteral “soapbox” for Hawthorne to convey to the world that the majority of Puritans were strict andunfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is being scorned by a group of womenwho feel that she deserves a larger punishment than she actually receives. Instead of only being made tostand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they suggest that she have it branded onher forehead or even be put to death (Hawthorne 51). Perhaps the most important influence on the story isthe author’s interest in the “dark side” (“Introduction” VIII). Unlike the transcendentalists of theera, Hawthorne “confronted reality, rather than evading it” (VII). Likewise, The Scarlet Letter dealswith adultery, a subject that caused much scandal when it w!as first published (XV).
The book revolves around sin and punishment, a far outcry from writers of the time, such as Emerson and Thoreau, who dwelt on optimistic themes(VII). This background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and importantliterary devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the develop the theme of the heartas a prison.The scaffold scenes are the most substantial situations in the story because they unify TheScarlet Letter in two influential ways. First of all, every scaffold scene reunites the main charactersof the novel. In the first scene, everyone in the town is gathered in the market place because Hester isbeing questioned about the identity of the father of her child ( Hawthorne 52). In her arms is theproduct of her sin, Pearl, a three month old baby who is experiencing life outside the prison for thefirst time (53).
Dimmesdale is standing beside the scaffold because he is Hester’s pastor and it is hisjob to convince her to repent and reveal the father’s name (65). A short time later, Chillingworthunexpectedly shows up within the crowd of people who are watching Hester after he is released from histwo year captivity by the Indians (61). In the second scene, Dimmesdale is standing on top of thescaffold alone in the middle of the night (152). He sees Hester and Pearl wal!k through the market place on their way back from Governor Winthrop’s bedside (157). When Dimmesdalerecognizes them and tells them to join him, they walk up the steps to stand by his side (158).Chillingworth appears later standing beside the scaffold, staring at Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl. Inthe final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale walks to the steps of the scaffold in front of the whole town afterhis Election day sermon (263).
He tells Hester and Pearl to join him yet again on the scaffold (264).Chillingworth then runs through the crowd and tries to stop Dimmesdale from reaching the top of thescaffold, the one place where he can’t reach him (265). Another way in which the scenes are united ishow each illustrates the immediate, delayed, and prolonged effects that the sin of adultery has on themain characters. The first scene shows Hester being publicly punished on the scaffold (52).
She isbeing forced to stand on it for three hours straight and listen to peop!le talk about her as