Custom House Essay Hawthorne

We hope that the hyperlinked version of "The Custom-House" sketch in this section of the site, along with the commentary in the Scholars' Forum, will assist students in understanding the integral relationship between this introductory chapter and the story which follows.Not all publishers in the past have had such an understanding; in some editions "The Custom-House" chapter is omitted altogether.

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Read a translation of The Custom House Introductory to The Scarlet Letter → This section introduces us to the narrator and establishes his desire to contribute to American culture.

Although this narrator seems to have much in common with Nathaniel Hawthorne himself—Hawthorne also worked as a customs officer, lost his job due to political changes, and had Puritan ancestors whose legacy he considered both a blessing and a curse—it is important not to conflate the two storytellers.

He believes this good feeling toward the place probably arises from the fact that his ancestors came to Salem so long ago, so he has roots there.

Hawthorne seems to find some of his peers to be in their prime and interesting, but the vast majority as "wearisome old souls, who had gathered nothing worth preservation from their varied experience of life." Near the end of the introduction, he says the "good townspeople will not much regret me," and it seems like he finds them somewhat small—perhaps a bit provincial.

I think Hawthorne does this to prove he has gone to great lengths to research for his writing before he put it in context.

He hopes to validate and give credibility to the expertise he has in creating a historical novel for we the readers.One rainy day he discovers some documents in the building’s unoccupied second story.Looking through the pile, he notices a manuscript that is bundled with a scarlet, gold-embroidered piece of cloth in the shape of the letter “A.” The narrator examines the scarlet badge and holds it briefly to his chest, but he drops it because it seems to burn him. It is the work of one Jonathan Pue, who was a customs surveyor a hundred years earlier.His fellow workers mostly hold lifetime appointments secured by family connections.They are elderly and given to telling the same stories repeatedly.One item he found in particular gave him great motivation for the book: But the object that most drew my attention, in the mysterious package, was a certain affair of fine red cloth, much worn and faded.There were traces about it of gold embroidery, which, however, was greatly frayed and defaced.The original manuscript of The Scarlet Letter is lost, and house printing style was imposed on the 1850 edition, so that version varies occasionally from Hawthorne's spelling, capitalization, and word division in manuscripts of the same time period.As a result, we have chosen to use the Ohio State University Centenary Edition, the one preferred by most scholars, and have purchased the rights from Ohio State University Press.He believes that his Puritan ancestors, whom he holds in high regard, would find it frivolous and “degenerate.” Nevertheless, he decides to write a fictional account of Hester Prynne’s experiences.It will not be factually precise, but he believes that it will be faithful to the spirit and general outline of the original.

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