What does Hawthorne claim are the similarities and differences in The Scarlet Letter and the historical artifacts he discovered?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his introductory to The Scarlet Letter, "The Custom House," Nathaniel Hawthorne alludes to his ancestors and provides some background for his novel as well as rationale for his writing about Hester Prynne, who suffered under the rigid laws of the Puritans.  When he writes of having discovered the mysterious package that contained the "rag of scarlet cloth" that assumed the shape of a letter along with "several fooscap sheets" that contained details of the life and conversation of Hester Prynne, Hawthorne seems to wish to establish verisimilitude for his narrative.  In his words, he has striven for "the authenticity of the outline."  And, from this outline, Hawthorne constructs his intensely psychological novel.

Perhaps because of his brooding ancestral guilt over the uncle who was a judge in the Salem Witchcraft Trials,  Hawthorne wished to create a certain realism so that readers would consider the problems of the strict Puritan code and the Puritanical hypocrisy which yet loom over America. For, he declares that the ghost of the Surveyor Pue exhorts him,

"I charge you, in this matter of old Mistress Prynne, give to you predessor's memory the credit which will be righfully its due!"

And, Hawthorne replies to the ghost as though he feels an obligation, "I will!"

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The Scarlet Letter

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