In the “Custom House,” written as an introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne gives an autobiographical description of his life and times. The detailed descriptions of the scenes and people not only prepare the reader for the author’s style, but also aim at recreating the author’s past. The preface concentrates on the author’s period of service at the Custom House during which time he came into contact with several people and had the opportunity to study human behavior. The description of his co-employees and others shows the author’s deft hand at characterization, which is revealed during the novel. Further, the preface serves the purpose of giving a background to the novel and introduces America’s Puritanical ancestors. Through the novel, by taking a favorable view of Hester and Dimmesdale and by drawing Chillingworth in evil proportions, Hawthorne attempts to undo the wrong and injustice done by his ancestors.
The reference to the discovery of the scarlet letter and some papers referring to the incident of a woman condemned like Hester is to strengthen the author’s claim of the authenticity of the story. Table of Contents CHAPTER 1: The Prison Door The first chapter gives a description of the dark and gloomy nature of the prison that was established in the “vicinity of Cornhill” by the early settlers. The prison is described as an “ugly edifice” and “black flower of civilized society”.
Weeds grow in front of the gloomy structure, where a group of Puritans, dressed normally in their dull clothing, has gathered. The only positive image in the whole setting is a single rosebush that stands beside the weeds. It foreshadows that there will be some brightness amidst this “tale of human frailty and sorrow.” Notes The purpose of this opening chapter is to set the scene for the novel in seventeenth century Boston.
A crowd of Puritans has gathered at the prison and as always, they wear “sad-colored” clothing. The description of the dark and gloomy prison sets the mood for the entire story and foreshadows the situations of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. She is outwardly “imprisoned” for her sin through her alienation and isolation; he is inwardly “imprisoned” by his mental anguish and deterioration. Hawthorne obviously chooses to begin his novel with a prison, an appropriate symbol for the punishment that the protagonists will suffer.
In the midst of the dark description of the prison, there is a single rose bush. It is said to spring from the footsteps of Anne Hutchinson, an actual Puritan woman who questioned the strictness of her religion and was later judged by some as a martyr for it. The rose, in its brightness and beauty, is an obvious symbol for Hester Prynne, who has similarities to Anne Hutchinson. In spite of the darkness of her situation in the novel, Hester lives in truth, pride, goodness