What relationship does The Scarlet Letter's opening chapter suggest between the major themes of social ideals vs. social reality and nature vs. history?

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gcampane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting for Chapter 1 is the prison, specifically the prison door.  In the chapter Hawthorne writes that when they estabilished a new settlement, the Puritans erected prisons and cemetaries before all else, indicating their belief that sin/crime was as inevitable in their society as death.  Puritans believed in the depravity of man, that all people were sinners who were easily tempted by the devil. 

The prison door itself is described as worn, although it is not that old, signifying that it has been used often.  Again, this society values harsh punishments for any infraction of their laws. 

The only light spot in Chapter 1 is the rose bush that has bloomed spontaneously outside the prison door.  There is a reference to Anne Hutchinson, an outspoken member of society who became a symbol of rebelliousness and righteousness.  Hawthorne is equating Hester Prynne's rebellious nature with that of Hutchinson, thus hinting to the reader that Prynne will eventually be vindicated as a long-suffering, yet ultimately redeemed character in the novel.

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The Scarlet Letter

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