What evidence is there in "The Custom-House" that the narrator becomes obsessed with Hester Prynne's history?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Although the connection between the preface of The Scarlet Letter, "The Custom House, Introductory," is a slight and contrived one, this introduction is an interesting one as Hawthorne's personality is revealed as not merely a morbid brooder over sin, but as a man of some experience in practical affairs. Critics feel that it also demonstrates Hawthorne's emotional response to his fellow human beings. Then, as such a man interested in human affairs, the narrator supposedly discovers "a treasure that would be brought to life." For, he happens upon a "mysterious package" of fine red cloth that is worn and faded that he examines closely.
The narrator's examination brings him to a "riddle" that "strangely interested" him. He feels that there is a deep meaning to this elaborately embroidered letter that communicates to his "sensibilities":
It seemed to me,--the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word,--it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a sensation not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat; and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but red-hot iron. I shuddered and involuntarily let it fall upon the floor.
Hawthorne continues that he is involved in "absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter"; he finds other items such as "foolscap sheets" that contain documentation on Hester Prynne, who lived to be very old and traveled as a kind of voluntary nurse. As the narrator continues his reading, he finds the authenticated document of the Surveyor Pue, and his "meditations" on Hester Prynne's story occupy many hours:
It was the subject of my mediations for many an hour, while pacing to and fro across my room, or traversing, with a hundred-fold repeition, the long extent from the front-door of the Custom House to the side-entrance, and back again.
The narrator even imagines that the dead figures ask him, "What have you to do with us?" and his "imaginative faculty" is awakened.