The Scarlet Letter


Introduction and Background

The Scarlet Letter was written by Nathanial Hawthorne in late 1849 and early 1850, and published in 1850. It is considered his best work and is one of the most famous of all American novels. Nathanial Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne’s family had a long history in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, including an ancestor who sat as a judge in the Salem witch trials. He changed the spelling of his name to avoid association with that ancestor, a detail that reveals some of the lingering sentiment in the area. After graduating from college, Hawthorne began publishing his works, beginning with short stories. He did not find immediate success as an author. He also worked at a customs house and also became involved in the transcendentalist movement, even living at Brook Farm, a transcendentalist community, for part of his adulthood. Hawthorne went on to publish novels, beginning with The Scarlet Letter.

Very much a man of his time and location, Hawthorne’s works, and particularly The Scarlet Letter, focus extensively on events in New England. He references the history of New England, both positive and negative, in much of his work. Certainly that history is important in The Scarlet Letter, which examines Puritan mores and values in depth. These values, and specifically how they intertwine with the treatment of women, play an important role in Hawthorne’s work. Moreover, The Scarlet Letter differs from novels that came before it. In some ways it is historical fiction, but Hawthorne did not stick to a realistic portrayal of history, instead adding gothic elements to the Boston portrayed in the story. In doing so, he was one of the creators of the gothic romance genre. However, the multiple layers in the novel make it difficult to pigeonhole into a single genre. The breadth of the novel may actually help account for its enduring popularity. The novel has been in continuing publication since it was first published, and is one of the most highly lauded of all American...

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Essays About The Scarlet Letter