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While the basic premise of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the adulterous affair between Hester Prynne and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, is fictional, there are a number of realistic elements in the novel.
He begins the novel with a long chapter about his employment at the custom house. This was a job that Hawthorne actually held, so we can trust the accuracy of his account.
The setting is very early colonial Boston. This is the area that was settled first in 1630 as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The real first governor, John Winthrop, is referred to in the novel when he dies in 1649. Hawthorne wants to accurately portray the rather severe social atmosphere of the time, so by rooting his story in the historically accurate Puritan era he prepares his reader for the scorn that Hester will face as an outcast and the guilt Dimmesdale will feel as a secret sinner.
Other real people who are characters in the book include Governor Richard Bellingham, Reverend John Wilson (who is portrayed as Dimmesdale's mentor), and Ann Hibbins. Hibbins is perhaps the most provocative of these characters, as she is presented as a witch who tries to tempt Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale. In real life, Hibbins was executed for witchcraft in 1656.
The main characters of Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth are all fictional.
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