The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne's background influenced him to write the bold
novel The Scarlet Letter. One important influence on the story is
money. Hawthorne had never made much money as an author and the birth
of his first daughter added to the financial burden ("Biographical
Note" VII). He received a job at the Salem Custom House only to lose
it three years later and be forced to write again to support his
family (IX). Consequently, The Scarlet Letter was published a year
later (IX). It was only intended to be a long short story, but the
extra money a novel would bring in was needed ("Introduction" XVI).
Hawthorne then wrote an introduction section titled "The Custom House"
to extend the length of the book and The Scarlet Letter became a full
novel (XVI). In addition to financial worries, another influence on
the story is Hawthorne's rejection of his ancestors. His forefathers
were strict Puritans, and John Hathorne, 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 a
great deal of his life renouncing the Puritans in general (VII).
Similarly, The Scarlet Letter was a literal "soapbox" for Hawthorne to
convey to the world that the majority of Puritans were strict and
unfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is
being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a larger
punishment than she actually receives. Instead of only being made to
stand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they
suggest that she have it branded on her forehead or even be put to
death (Hawthorne 51). Perhaps the most important influence on the
story is the author's interest in the "dark side" ("Introduction"
VIII). Unlike the transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne "confronted
reality, rather than evading it" (VII). Likewise, The Scarlet Letter
deals with 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 important literary
devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the
develop the theme of the heart as a prison. The scaffold scenes are
the most substantial situations in the story because they unify The
Scarlet Letter in two influential ways. First of all, every scaffold
scene reunites the main characters of the novel. In the first scene,
everyone in the town is gathered in the market place because Hester is
being questioned about the identity of the father of her child (
Hawthorne 52). In her arms is the product of her sin, Pearl, a three
month old baby who is experiencing life outside the prison for the
first time (53). Dimmesdale is standing beside the scaffold
because he is Hester's pastor and it is his job to convince her to
repent and reveal the father's name (65). A short time later,
Chillingworth unexpectedly shows up within the crowd of people who are
watching Hester after he is released from his two year captivity by
the Indians (61). In the second scene, Dimmesdale is standing on top
of the scaffold alone in the middle of the night (152). He sees Hester
and Pearl walk through the market place on their way back from
Governor Winthrop's bedside (157). When Dimmesdale recognizes 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. In the final scaffold scene,
Dimmesdale walks to the steps of the scaffold in front of the whole
town after his 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 the scaffold, the one place where he can't reach him (265). Another
way in which the scenes are united is how each illustrates the
immediate, delayed, and prolonged effects that the sin of adultery has
on the main characters. The first scene shows Hester being publicly
punished on the scaffold (52). She is being forced to stand on it for
three hours