How would Nathaniel Hawthorne's sentence structure in The Scarlet Letter be described? 

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A glance at the first few sentences of chapter one shows us that Hawthorne's sentences in this novel will be long and contain a great many dependent clauses.  The first sentence reads,

"A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, 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." 

The sentence comprises, in fact, the entirety of the first paragraph.  To be sure, it contains a number of clauses that help to us to visualize the people and the place described by giving us a great deal of detail and visual imagery.  The sheer number of commas in the sentence helps us to see, too, just how complex the sentence is. 

Another sentence in this chapter is even longer and more complicated: 

"But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him." 

Thus, with this sentence, the narrator has covered not only the fact that a rosebush exists here but also its exact placement, the potential benefits of that placement, the way its flowers look and smell, as well as contrast the Puritanical prison with Nature and let us know what month it is.  Again, the detail helps us to really see this scene in our mind's eye and to vividly imagine this rosebush, an important symbol in the novel.  Therefore, we could describe Hawthorne's sentence structure as long and consisting of many dependent clauses that serve to provide us with a great deal of detail.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

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