Discuss The Scarlet Letter as a romance novel
English Literature

Discuss The Scarlet Letter as a romance novel MEG 06

According to “The Custom-House,” an essay that serves as an introduction to “The Scarlet Letter,” a Romance (1850), the story of Hester Prynne is rooted on the manuscripts of one Jonathan Pue, who served as Hawthorne’s predecessor in the office of a surveyor at the Custom-House in Salem at the time of the novel’s publication. Mr. Hawthorne claims that he has discovered, among Mr. Surveyor Pue’s writings, a piece of ‘beautiful red cloth, somewhat old and faded’ that is in the form of the capital letter A’.

The discovery of Mr. Pue’s manuscripts and the scarlet letter is, of course, a work of fiction, and Hawthorne’s remark that “the original papers, together with the scarlet letter itself, a most curious relic and are still in my possession, and shall be freely exhibited to whomsoever, induced by the great interest of the narrative, may desire a sight of them” is one of those techniques that a novelist frequently employs.

Joseph B. Felt’s, “Annals of Salem” from its First Settlement (1827) is credited for providing Hawthorne with a great deal of his understanding of colonial Massachusetts. On May 5, 1694, the following items are written, among other things, in the journal. Adultery and polygamy were two of the legislation enacted during this session that dealt with these issues. Those found guilty of the first crime were sentenced to an hour on the gallows with ropes around their necks, to be severely whipped not exceeding 40 stripes, and to wear a capital A, two inches long, cut out of cloth that was a different colour than their clothes, and sewn on the arms or back parts of their garments so that they could be seen whenever they went about their business for the rest of their lives.

Hawthorne’s imagination, it seems, has been stirred by these documents from his earliest years of childhood. In one of his earliest short stories, “Endicott and the Red Cross,” published in 1837, he describes “a young woman, with no small share of beauty, whose doom it was to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown in the eyes of the world and her own children”.  Having great feelings of pity and compassion for a victim of the brutality of Puritanism, who was compelled to wear the letter A (not necessarily “scarlet”) on the arms or back portions of his or her clothing as punishment for adultery, Hawthorne wrote “The Scarlet Letter.”

Hawthorne’s humanitarian emotions were the driving force behind The Scarlet Letter, and the following line from “The Custom-House” demonstrates just how powerful they were: ‘…it (the scarlet letter) oddly piqued my curiosity.’ Despite my best efforts, my gaze was drawn to the ancient scarlet letter and would not be diverted. There was, without a doubt, some profound message in it that was deserving of interpretation, and which, “as it were, flowed out from the mystic symbol, gently conveying itself to my senses while eluding the scrutiny of my intellect.  It just so happened that I put it on my breast. After that, it seemed to me that I was experiencing a sensation that was not entirely physical, but almost so, as if the letter were made not of red cloth, but of red-hot iron—the reader may smile, but he must not doubt my word.  I shivered and unintentionally let it fall to the floor in front of me”.


Discuss The Scarlet Letter as a romance novel MEG 06

IGNOU MA English IGNOU MEG Solved Assignment English Literature


It is true that Hawthorne’s idea of his masterwork is metaphorical in the sense that it is derived from the letter A, but his imagination has conjured up the image of a real individual who was suffering under the stigma. Hawthorne sympathised with Hester Prynne’s anguish and felt it, in a sense, as if it were his own—as if it were the agony of his own breast being burned by a hot piece of iron.

This demonstrates, among other things, that in The Scarlet Letter, a Romance, Hawthorne the romancer is at his most ‘novelist-like’. Despite the fact that the profound significance of the symbol A was discreetly conveyed to Hawthorne’s senses, it managed to elude the examination of his intellect. It is undeniable that The Scarlet Letter is the result of his emotions, rather than his intellect, as he claims.

Our next task is to determine why a woman had to be the victim of Puritanism’s brutality as a character in Hawthorne’s novel in order for the story to make sense. It was conceivable that it could have been a guy as well. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this issue is that Hawthorne may have gotten an idea for his romance from the tale of a lady who was caught in adultery. The letter A is represented by the colour scarlet,’ since it is the colour that best depicts the intensity of human emotion among other colours, and it is also the colour of sin.

Moreover, according to Alfred S. Reid’s novels “The Yellow Ruff and The Scarlet Letter” (1955), the fictitious setting in which the adulteress gives birth to a girl baby in prison while her lawful husband seeks vengeance against the man who has cuckolded him is based on the famous Overbury case from England.

If Hawthorne makes aged Chillingworth (who is much too old to be the spouse of a young lady) appear as the husband of young Hester, it is possible that he is looking for one of the reasons of Hester’s guilt in her illegitimate marriage. Hester is the first person to arrive in the new continent, arriving before Chillingworth. It is possible that she may feel lonely in a new country and fall in love with a handsome young guy, despite the fact that he is the man of God. Chillingworth is a physician with a mischievous mastery of herbal remedies. The fact that Sir Thomas Overbury was poisoned to death serves as a strong indication to Hawthorne in this regard.

Hawthorne’s choice of a clergyman to be Hester’s lover is the most creative and commendable of the techniques used in the tale of Hester Prynne. Hester’s lover is the pastor, who has the responsibility of guiding her spiritually as one of his parishioners. We believe that this is an indication of the sceptical Hawthorne’s disdain for priests in general, but that he was attempting to depict the anguish of a human soul on a grand scale with this poem. Dimmesdale, who has committed adultery, suffers much more as a result of his position as a servant of God. Man has the ability to be both godlike and monstrous at the same time. This is one of the secrets of human nature that Hawthorne has revealed in his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter.

Dimmesdale is Hester’s pastor, and it is his responsibility to admonish her for failing to identify her boyfriend in front of a large audience. This is a particularly ironic technique, given that Dimmesdale himself turns out to be Hester’s lover in the end. The answer to our question of who her lover is is provided when Chillingworth is successful in identifying the one who has harmed him. The storyline of “The Scarlet Letter” is really brilliant. Furthermore, the tale of a woman caught in adultery does not include the name of her companion because the priests and Pharisees had brought in the lady alone with the intention of testing Jesus and framing an accusation against him. Hester  and her lover are both thought up by Hawthorne, who makes them undergo from the sin of adultery as “the revealed sin” and as “the hidden sin,” sequentially, and attempts to investigate the impacts that the sin of adultery inflicts on them mentally, physically, and virtuously through the use of a number of literary devices. It may be argued that “The Scarlet Letter” is a novelistic expansion of the biblical story.

Last but not least, we must examine the presence of Pearl, who is the scarlet letter itself, in the story. Among other things, Pearl makes an appearance in Hester Prynne’s narrative as proof of Hester’s illicit love, yet she is the most “unnatural” of all the characters in The Scarlet Letter she is the most “natural.” Hawthorne gave her the nickname “Pearl” because he intended to purify Hester’s love for Dimmesdale and contrast it to the pearl of great price in Jesus Christ’s story.  Pearl is the innocent child who can deliver them from all sins and consequences. Hawthorne may have meant to shine a tiny ray of hope into the gloomy world of The Scarlet Letter, but this was the extent of Hawthorne’s ability as a romance writer to depict the dark side of mankind in all its guilt and pain.

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