‘She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness. . . . The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.’
In the strict theocracy of the newly formed Massachusetts Bay Colony, even private sins are punished. For the sin of adultery, the magistrates of the colony sentence Hester Prynne, her fatherless child in her arms, to wear a red letter ‘A’ on her breast for the rest of her life. Although she must publicly bear an intolerable shame, she refuses to succumb to pressure and name her lover.
As Hester raises her daughter, Pearl, within the community that censured her, she finds a way to accept her past transgressions and live with her situation. However, both her lover and her recently returned husband steadfastly hide their connections to her public downfall—a decision that weighs on their minds and threatens to warp their souls. This brooding psychological portrait deftly explores the nature of pride, tolerance, virtue, and what it costs to be true to one’s self.
‘This is where American literature begins.’
Includes Hawthorne’s Preface to the Second Edition and the original introduction, The Custom House.