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The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter Chapter 1 Summary

The Prison Door

  • This first chapter describes the town prison. Cool! This bodes well.
  • See, every colony needs a prison, even those that seem perfect.
  • (Note to self: add "Build Prison" to Shmoop Colony To-Do List.)
  • The townspeople are staring at the prison door. It's awfully gloomy: "like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era" (1.2).
  • There's a wild rose bush growing along the side of the door that serves as a blessing to all criminals who enter the prison.
  • Random, we know. But just imagine you were a criminal in Puritan Boston on a dreary spring day and, right before you're tossed in the clink, you see a beautiful, blood red rosebush. Would your day not be that much lighter?
  • No? Yeah, we're not sold on it either.
  • The townspeople believe that the wild rose bush at the prison door sprang up the moment Anne Hutchinson entered the prison. Ann Hutchinson is a real historical figure who punished for saying that people should focus on their individual relationships to God rather than relying on the words of ministers. (Intrigued? We've got whole section on her.)

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