The Scarlet Letter Questions and Answers
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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What do you know about the narrative techniques used by Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter? Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is interesting that the scarlet letter rests upon a floor in "The Custom House--Introductory" and it again lies upon a floor in Hawthorne's final chapter of his seminal novel.  From beginning to end, Hawthorne's use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter is his most intriguing literary technique.  From this use of symbol and its enigmatic meaning, Hawthorne weaves a narrative of great depth and implications.

With the ambiguity of meaning created by the scarlet letter that rests upon the exterior of Hester Prynne's clothing, the interior of Arthur Dimmesdale's clothing, and the incarnation of the letter in their child Pearl, Hawthorne forces the absolutes of Puritanism and sin and guilt into question as various interpretations of Hester's letter emerge with the narrative along with the three appearances of the letter.  Clearly, Hawthorne's technique of symbolism provides the capacity to convey impressions and meanings that extend beyond mere narrative. 

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The narrative techniques used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the novel The Scarlet Letter effectively convey the message of "ancestral sin" and bring out the sense of a nostalgic past. The way in which Hawthorne achieves this is by presenting us with a preface in that serves as both an introduction, the statement of purpose for writing the story, and the rationale behind the tale. Additionally, he adds Gothic elements, omniscient narration, and deep analyses of the unique characteristics of each person.

The omniscient narrator allows us to get to know each character internally and externally, as well as their motifs and emotions. Additionally, Hawthorne opens a window into the internal world of each character, and shows us the effects of the interaction between the main characters and the villagers. This gives us a depth of understanding of how exactly change affects everyone equally in a place where time seems to pass quite slowly.

Finally, there are Gothic elements in place that color the story with a unique atmosphere of nostalgia, mystery, and supernatural effects that make it quite a wonderful read.

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