The Scarlet Letter Questions and Answers
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter book cover
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What are the preternatural elements in The Scarlet Letter?

Preternatural elements in The Scarlet Letter include a general air of fantasy typical of Hawthorne's works set in the Puritan past. More specifically, the climactic scene in which Dimmesdale's guilt is revealed involves a supernatural event or at the very least attests to the power of the human mind to create its own reality differing from that of the natural world.

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The Scarlet Letter is a historical novel, but it is also a transformation and reimagining of the past through the author's Romantic imagination. As such, it is not meant to be a literal depiction of events as they would have occurred 200 years before Hawthorne's time. A hallmark of early nineteenth-century fiction is a blurring of the line between the fantastic and the real. In Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," for instance, it's never absolutely certain if the walk in the woods with the mysterious stranger has actually taken place or if the whole thing is Brown's dream. Similarly, the revelation in The Scarlet Letter of Dimmesdale 's guilt is like a signal from beyond this world, though it's unclear what has...

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