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How does the introduction, "The Custom House," relate to the novel The Scarlet...

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latinlover | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted April 13, 2010 at 9:22 AM via web

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How does the introduction, "The Custom House," relate to the novel The Scarlet Letter?

I read "The Custom House," and to me it relates to the story because this is were everything started, the finding of the letter and is a place were hester got her sentence.

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rbeverett | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 13, 2010 at 1:27 PM (Answer #1)

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Much argument has taken place over the importance of “The Custom House” in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Certainly, most high school students probably find it somewhat dense compared to the rest of the narrative. As a result, many high school teachers skip this section of the novel in their teaching.


This fact is unfortunate as “The Custom House” really sets the stage for the rest of the novel. In it the reader is introduced to the narrator, who shares many similarities with Nathaniel Hawthorne.  These similarities are so numerous that one can argue that it is actually Hawthorne narrating the tale even though the narrator never truly identifies himself. Indeed much controversy ensued after the original publication of the novel. Many of Hawthorne’s political enemies criticized “The Custom House” as they viewed this section as a personal attack from Hawthorne. Beyond the narrator, the introduction also relates how Hester Prynne’s story came to be discovered and how the story became a romance.


Likewise, “The Custom House” establishes the seemingly self-righteous tone that the narrator uses throughout the story. The criticism the narrator has for the political machinery and custom house employees of the early nineteenth century is soon transferred to the magistrates and townspeople of late seventeenth-century New England. Thus, the introduction to this novel is exactly what it should be and for that reason should also be read, studied, and taught along with the primary narrative.

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rajandadwal | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 17, 2011 at 11:54 PM (Answer #2)

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The chapter 'The Custom House' described as the introductry to "The Scarlet Letter" and it relates very much to the story as it contains an account of author's experience in the custom house. Its a piece of autobiography. Custom house is the place from where evrything started. Author tells us about his working in the custom house and how he finds the scarlet letter and a piece of document written by Jonathan Pue. From this chapter we come to know that this is the place where Hester got her sentence.

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