CliffsNotes on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

CliffsNotes on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

CliffsNotes on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

CliffsNotes on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Synopsis

The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background. The latest generation of titles in this series also feature glossaries and visual elements that complement the classic, familiar format.

In CliffsNotes on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, you explore life in 17th-century Massachusetts as you follow the ordeal of Hester Prynne, who has been found guilty of adultery and sentenced to wear a scarlet letter A on her dress as a sign of shame. The Scarlet Letter is considered to be Hawthorne's finest work, depicting a world where the real meets the unreal, the actual meets the imaginary - in a classic story that is difficult to forget.

This study guide carefully walks you through every step of Hester's journey by providing summaries and critical analyses of each chapter of the novel. You'll also explore the life and background of the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and gain insight into how he came to write The Scarlet Letter. Other features that help you study include

  • Character analyses of major players
  • A character map that graphically illustrates the relationships among the characters
  • Critical essays on the novel's setting and structure, symbolism, and classification as a gothic romance
  • A review section that tests your knowledge
  • A Resource Center full of books, articles, films, and Internet sites

Classic literature or modern modern-day treasure - you'll understand it all with expert information and insight from CliffsNotes study guides.

Excerpt

Born July 4, 1804, Nathaniel Hathorne was the only son of Captain Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne. (Hawthorne added the “w” to his name after he graduated from college.) Following the death of Captain Hathorne in 1808, Nathaniel, his mother, and his two sisters were forced to move in with Mrs. Hathorne’s relatives, the Mannings. Here Nathaniel Hawthorn grew up in the company of women without a strong male role model; this environment may account for what biographers call his shyness and introverted personality.

This period of Hawthorne’s life was mixed with the joys of reading and the resentment of financial dependence. While he studied at an early age with Joseph E. Worcester, a well-known lexicographer, he was not particularly fond of school. An injury allowed him to stay home for a year when he was nine, and his early “friends” were books by Shakespeare, Spenser, Bunyan, and 18th century novelists.

During this time Mrs. Hathorne moved her family to land owned by the Mannings near Raymond, Maine. Nathaniel’s fondest memories of these days were when “I ran quite wild, and would, I doubt not, have willingly run wild till this time, fishing all day long, or shooting with an old fowling piece.” This idyllic life in the wilderness exerted its charm on the boy’s imagination but ended in 1819 when he returned to Salem to prepare two years for college entrance.

Education

In 1821, Hawthorne entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Among his classmates were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who would become a distinguished poet and Harvard professor, and Franklin Pierce, future 14th president of the United States. Another classmate, Horatio Bridge, was later to offer a Boston publisher a guarantee against loss if he would publish Hawthorne’s first collection of short stories.

Hawthorne graduated middle of his class in 1825. Regarding his aspirations, he wrote, “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”

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