Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

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The Scarlet Letter opens with a description of the prison in which Hester has been incarcerated for adultery. This prison is an ugly, necessary building, constructed very early in the history of Boston colony. Boston lore holds that Anne Hutchinson, the infamous spiritual advisor and “heretic,” once walked into this same prison and that a rosebush sprang up under her sainted feet. The omniscient narrator hopes that these roses will symbolize a kind of moral sweetness that will otherwise be hard to find in this novel.


Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643). A Puritan spiritual advisor, Anne Hutchinson has become infamous for her unorthodox teachings. Her religious gatherings were a source of some discomfort in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and in 1637, she was put on trial for heresy. Following the trial, she was banished from the colony and excommunicated from the church. Hawthorne’s narrator, however, refers to her as “sainted,” which clearly indicates his distaste for the rigid Puritanism that vilified Hutchinson.
Isaac Johnson (?–1630). One of the founders of the state of Massachusetts. He’s said to have been buried in King’s Chapel’s burial ground, but this may merely be a rumor.
King’s Chapel. This most likely refers to Boston’s King’s Chapel, which was first constructed in 1686. Its original edifice was later demolished so that the chapel could be rebuilt. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a native of Salem, Massachusetts, appears to have gotten his history wrong: King’s Chapel was built in 1686, but The Scarlet Letter opens on the year 1642, over forty years before King’s Chapel was founded.


The Rosebush. Hawthorne’s narrator directly states that the rosebush is intended “to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.” In this way, he prepares the reader for the dark story to come.

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Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis