In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is an adulteress and she must suffer public humiliation for her crime. She wears a scarlet-colored letter, embroidered onto her dress as a constant reminder to Hester of her transgression and the reader becomes aware of its changing significance as the plot develops.
In chapter one, the founders of this new Puritan community have established those things necessary to ensure the future of the colony. It is an unwritten custom to assign the land and demarcate a cemetery and build a prison almost immediately and it is the prison that is being described in this quote which reads, "it seemed never to have known a youthful era." The prison is described as if it has always been in place. Although the building is fairly new, it has an atmosphere which suits its purpose. It also foreshadows what will follow, being quite oppressive just in its appearance. It is just such overwhelming feelings that will lead to Reverend Dimmersdale's tragic death.
Literary terms or devices are used in literature as they intensify the meaning of the words used and often increase their significance. The prison ("it") is being described as if it is a person. Therefore, personification is the literary device used, assigning human characteristics to this building suggesting that the building, and anyone in it, has no virtue, nor any chance of any. Anyone who enters this prison is apparently is bad to the core - never really having been innocent. Even Pearl will suffer as she is guilty by association. It leaves the reader with a harsh and judgmental vision.