Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece: A searing portrait of sin and redemption in Puritan New England
When Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman in seventeenth-century Boston, becomes pregnant out of wedlock, the unforgiving society in which she lives judges her harshly. Sentenced to wear a scarlet A emblazoned on her dress, Hester raises her daughter, Pearl, on the outskirts of town—an exile meant to cause her shame for the remainder of her life.
In refusing to name Pearl’s father, Hester seeks to protect the minister Arthur Dimmesdale from sharing her fate. As the years pass, Dimmesdale grows weaker, eroded by his guilt, while Hester finds renewal in a defiant reclamation of her strength and identity. Their diverging paths lead to a searing final scene that stands among the most powerful in American literature.
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“[The Scarlet Letter] is beautiful, admirable, extraordinary . . . One can often return to it; it supports familiarity and has the inexhaustible charm and mystery of great works of art.” —Henry James
“Here, in short, is the prototype of the psychological novel, a brilliant and groundbreaking example of a new genre within 19th-century fiction.” —The Guardian
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) was an American author whose works are notable for their psychological complexity, dark romanticism, and themes of sin and retribution. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Hawthorne was a descendant of the earliest Puritan settlers, including one of the judges in the Salem witch trials. In addition to The Scarlet Letter, his well-known works include the novel The House of the Seven Gables and the story collection Twice-Told Tales.