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The Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and was published in 1850. The Scarlet Letter is sometimes described as a historical romance although the novel contains symbols and ides instead of realism. The narrator is a character writing the story approximately two hundred years after the events were supposed to have taken place and so the narrator is a biased character writing without first-hand knowledge. The story is set in Salem and Concord in the late 1840s and also in Boston in the 17th Century.


The Scarlet Letter begins with the narrator who created the story from a manuscript wrapped in a piece of cloth with the Letter A embroidered in scarlet. It then moves to the 17th Century and continues as the tale of a young woman who is branded as an adulterer in an unforgiving society. The plot contains many themes including:

  • Identity and society

  • Sin

  • Evil

  • Punishment

Biblical undertones are strong within the novel pointing out issues of sin, evil and punishment in a Puritan society. One such idea of punishment is the branding of adultery as the main female protagonist is made to wear a scarlet letter on her breast. The letter is A for adulterer due to the belief that she had a child by an unknown father. This was not the only punishment that the main protagonist received as she was shunned by society and forced to live on the outskirts of Boston.

Main Characters

The narrator telling the story of The Scarlet Letter remains unnamed and unknown to the reader and the other readers. The narrator is the only character from the 18th Century who takes the manuscript he finds and writes the story of Hester Prynne for others to read. The characters in the main story include:

  • Hester Prynne – Female protagonist

  • Pearl – Hester’s daughter

  • Roger Chillingworth – Hester’s husband

  • Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale – Reverend and Pearl’s father

  • Governor Bellingham – Governor and brother to Mistress Hibbins

  • Mistress Hibbins – Widow, local witch and sister to Governor Bellingham

  • Reverent John Wilson – Strict Puritan elder believes in damnation and harsh punishments


The Scarlet Letter is a tale that is about romance but also about crime and punishment in a Puritan Society. Lessons of sin, guilt and secrecy are all strong themes that can be found in the novel providing the reader with an insight to strict Puritan religious ideas while keeping the reader sympathising with the main protagonist.

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