Scarlet Letter Influences

Nathaniel Hawthorne's background influenced him to write the bold novel The

Scarlet Letter. One important influence on the story is money. Hawthorne had
never made much money as an author and the birth of his first daughter added to
the financial burden ("Biographical Note" VII). He received a job at
the Salem Custom House only to lose it three years later and be forced to write
again to support his family (IX). Consequently, The Scarlet Letter was published
a year later (IX). It was only intended to be a long short story, but the extra
money a novel would bring in was needed ("Introduction" XVI).

Hawthorne then wrote an introduction section titled "The Custom House"
to extend the length of the book and The Scarlet Letter became a full novel
(XVI). In addition to financial worries, another influence on the story is

Hawthorne's rejection of his ancestors. His forefathers were strict Puritans,
and John Hathorne, his great-great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the

S! alem witch trials ("Biographical Note" VII). Hawthorne did not
condone their acts and actually spent a great deal of his life renouncing the

Puritans in general (VII). Similarly, The Scarlet Letter was a literal
"soapbox" for Hawthorne to convey to the world that the majority of

Puritans were strict and unfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the
prison she is being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a
larger punishment than she actually receives. Instead of only being made to
stand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they suggest
that she have it branded on her forehead or even be put to death (Hawthorne 51).

Perhaps the most important influence on the story is the author's interest in
the "dark side" ("Introduction" VIII). Unlike the
transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne "confronted reality, rather than
evading it" (VII). Likewise, The Scarlet Letter deals with adultery, a
subject that caused much scandal when it w! as first published (XV). The book
revolves around sin and punishment, a far outcry from writers of the time, such
as Emerson and Thoreau, who dwelt on optimistic themes (VII). This background,
together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important
literary devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the
develop the theme of the heart as a prison. The scaffold scenes are the most
substantial situations in the story because they unify The Scarlet Letter in two
influential ways. First of all, every scaffold scene reunites the main
characters of the novel. In the first scene, everyone in the town is gathered in
the market place because Hester is being questioned about the identity of the
father of her child ( Hawthorne 52). In her arms is the product of her sin,

Pearl, a three month old baby who is experiencing life outside the prison for
the first time (53). Dimmesdale is standing beside the scaffold because he is

Hester's pastor and it is his job to convince her to repent and reveal the
father's name (65). A short time later, Chillingworth unexpectedly shows up
within the crowd of people who are watching Hester after he is released from his
two year captivity by the Indians (61). In the second scene, Dimmesdale is
standing on top of the scaffold alone in the middle of the night (152). He sees

Hester and Pearl walk through the market place on their way back from Governor

Winthrop's bedside (157). When Dimmesdale recognizes them and tells them to join
him, they walk up the steps to stand by his side (158). Chillingworth appears
later standing beside the scaffold, staring at Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl. In
the final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale walks to the steps of the scaffold in front
of the whole town after his Election day sermon (263). He tells Hester and Pearl
to join him yet again on the scaffold (264). Chillingworth then runs through the
crowd and tries to stop Dimmesdale from reaching the top of the scaffold, the
one place where he can't reach him (265). Another way in which the scenes are
united is how each illustrates the immediate, delayed, and prolonged effects
that the sin of adultery has on the main characters. The first scene shows

Hester being publicly punished on the scaffold (52). She is being forced to
stand on it for three hours straight and listen to peop! le talk about her as a
disgrace and a shame to the community (55). Dimmesdale's instantaneous response
to the sin is to lie. He stands before Hester and the rest of the town and
proceeds to give