Why is the opening scene important, what does it set up, or how does it add to the rest of the novel?
The opening scene paints a dark picture of Puritanism as the prison door is placed in a dominant position of the setting, acting as a symbolic reminder of the retributive power of Puritanism and the little joy it gives to any one.
The grey atmosphere of the "ponderous iron-work on the oaken door [that] looked more antique than anything else in the New World" sets a grim tone for the narrative. In addition, this opening chapter prepares the way for the entrance of the main characters. Within the walls of the prison waits Hester Prynne, who will soon be shamed upon the scaffold. But, on one side of the old iron trimmed door, there sits a wild rose-bush, symbolic of Hester's spirit which cannot be so repressed that it dies.
This rose bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history...or whether...it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Anne Hutchison, as she entered the prison-door--we shall not take upon us to determine.
Further, Hawthorne writes that he hopes this rose bush may symbolize a moral "blossom" that may be found to relieve the dismal tale of "human frailty and sorrow" that follows. Unlike the Puritans of his uncle's time, Hawthorne does not hold with an unforgiving culture such as that of his ancestors. Instead, he finds beauty within one darkened by sin, a beauty exemplified by Hester Prynne.