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Nathaniel Hawthorne begins his great novel, The Scarlet Letter, with a description of his experiences as an employee at a Customs House.
Although Hawthorne is not a particularly humorous author, there is some humor in this Customs House introduction.
First, Hawthorne begins with an elaborate apology for bothering the reader with details of his own life. He refers to his disclosure of personal matters as "prating," or meaningless chatter. He then goes on to refer to his story--The Scarlet Letter that would become a classic---as the "most prolix," or long-winded of his tales.
Hawthorne's description of the Customs House's appearance is full of deprecative humor--that is, it draws a smile by puttting down the building as being old and decaying.
The house's flag "floats or droops." The pavement in front of the building "has grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business." The eagle statue at the front of the building is referred to as an "unhappy fowl." Her attitude is one of "truculency," or rudeness. The eagle has "no great tenderness, even in her best of moods."
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