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A comparison of the scarlet letter and the custom house

The custom-house introductory to 'The scarlet letter' Summary

The narrator, who does not introduce himself, but according to the given information is probably Nathaniel Hawthorne personally, addresses readers, letting them know that he usually does not have an urge to speak to public or talk about his personal life, but this time he is inspired to do so, after having spent three years in a custom-office, where he seems to have missed his artistic side of personality.

He describes the custom-office as a building in Salem, located at the entrance of the former busy wharf that was teeming with people once, but is now a bit shabby and desolated, with only several bored gentlemen working there.

Not only does this parallel description of the former and the present state of the building give a vivid description of the office and represents the flow of time, it also depicts the political situation in the country. Accompanied with portrayal of its employees, who all fall into the same category of elderly corrupted custom officers who got their jobs over family connections, the narrator reveals a bigger picture of society and politics. Although his surroundings consists of coarse old people, who let the job suck the life out of them, they judge the narrator and find his work ridiculous and purposeless, alienating him.

  1. He then focuses on the manuscript itself, learning that Mr. Pue and two hundred years before the narrator.
  2. She was old at the time, but gracious in her posture, with a habit to go about the country and help people as a kind of voluntary nurse.
  3. They are both little understood for their ways and feel a bit alienated. Many considered her an angel, but there were people who found her nosy.
  4. From that moment, the narrator cannot stop thinking about Hester and her life, intrigued both by the story and old forgotten urge for writing evoked after reading the manuscript.

He contemplates his Puritan ancestors, who came to America with a goal, thinking how judgmental they would be if they had known that their descendant is now nothing more than a writer.

However, he is not a black sheep altogether, as he is trying to fit in the society by following the beaten track and getting a job in the custom office. While trying to shorten his long and boring working hours, he roams around the office and discovers old documents.

Among them he finds a manuscript written one hundred years ago by Jonathan Pue, who was a customs surveyor at the time. The paper is bundled with scarlet piece of cloth with gold-embroidered letter "A. He then focuses on the manuscript itself, learning that Mr. Pue wrote about Hester Prynne, who lived in period "between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century.

Pue and two hundred years before the narrator. She was old at the time, but gracious in her posture, with a habit to go about the country and help people as a kind of voluntary nurse.

Many considered her an angel, but there were people who found her nosy.

  1. He warns readers that the story is based on the outline of that manuscript and contains imaginary facts that complements the missing parts of the story, yet hopes that they do not change the essence of the story of Hester's life, keeping it truthful.
  2. She was old at the time, but gracious in her posture, with a habit to go about the country and help people as a kind of voluntary nurse. While trying to shorten his long and boring working hours, he roams around the office and discovers old documents.
  3. Unable to write at his working place, he becomes obsessed and nervous, until he finally gets the opportunity to write after losing his politically appointed job that was a burden on his artistic soul anyway.

The rest of the manuscript contains the information about her life and sufferings, as the novel will reveal later. From that moment, the narrator cannot stop thinking about Hester and her life, intrigued both by the story and old forgotten urge for writing evoked after reading the manuscript.

Unable to write at his working place, he becomes obsessed and nervous, until he finally gets the opportunity to write after losing his politically appointed job that was a burden on his artistic soul anyway. He warns readers that the story is based on the outline of that manuscript and contains imaginary facts that complements the missing parts of the story, yet hopes that they do not change the essence of the story of Hester's life, keeping it truthful.

The parallel analysis of this short introduction shows that the narrator identifies himself with Hester. They are both little understood for their ways and feel a bit alienated. By covering the story about Hester and describing his surroundings, the narrator covers two hundred years of American history, from both philosophical and factual points of view.