Chapter 1 of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter introduces the reader to the Puritan society. As he opens his novel, Chapter 1 is dedicated entirely to delineating the prison door and the people who originally built it. The chapter begins with one long, one sentence paragraph.
A throng of men, in sad-colored garments, and grey, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
In fact, it is not until Chapter 2 that the reader begins to understand why the people have gathered around the door. Hawthorne begins by speculating on the cause of the assembly. He lists the crimes that could have been committed by citizens of Boston, or even people passing through. The list paints the Puritans as strict, unfeeling people.
It might be that a sluggish bond-servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at the whipping-post. It might be, that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle or vagrant Indian, whom the white man's firewater had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old Mistriss Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the magistrate, was to die upon the gallows.
However, after listing all of the possible crimes someone could commit in the eyes of the town, Hawthorne explains the real cause of the gathering. The town has come to witness the punishment of Mistress Hester Prynne, a married woman from there town who is pregnant despite the fact that her husband has not yet reached the New World. For her crime, adultery, she has spent three months in jail and will wear a scarlet letter A on her chest for the rest of her life.