- A Streetcar Named Desire
- As You Like It
- Don Quixote
- Fahrenheit 451
Please wait while we process your payment
Your password reset email should arrive shortly..
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Something went wrong
Log in or create account.
- Be between 8-15 characters.
- Contain at least one capital letter.
- Contain at least one number.
- Be different from your email address.
Don’t have an account? Subscribe now
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
- Ad-free experience
- Study notes
- Flashcards & Quizzes
- AP® English Test Prep
- Plus much more
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99 /month + tax
$24.99 /year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
Purchasing SparkNotes PLUS for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$24.99 $18.74 / subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
Save 25% on 2-49 accounts
Save 30% on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more? Contact us for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews March 10, 2023 March 3, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
SNPLUSROCKS20 | 20% Discount
This is not a valid promo code.
Discount Code (one code per order)
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at [email protected] . Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
- We’d love to have you back! Renew your subscription to regain access to all of our exclusive, ad-free study tools.
- Looking for exclusive, AD-FREE study tools? Look no further!
- Start the school year strong with SparkNotes PLUS!
- Start the school year strong with PLUS!
The Scarlet Letter
- Study Guide
- No Fear Translation
- Mastery Quizzes
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 historical novel The Scarlet Letter explores guilt, revenge, and redemption in colonial America . Hawthorne blends supernatural elements with psychological insight in his story of one woman’s public punishment for adultery. Explore a character analysis of Hester Prynne , plot summary , and important quotes.
Read our full plot summary and analysis of The Scarlet Letter , chapter by chapter breakdowns, and more.
Summary & Analysis
- The Custom-House: Introductory
- Chapters 1–2
- Chapters 3–4
- Chapters 5–6
- Chapters 7–8
- Chapters 9–10
- Chapters 11–12
- Chapters 13–14
- Chapters 15–16
- Chapters 17-18
- Chapters 19–20
- Chapters 21–22
- Chapters 23–24
- Full Book Summary
- Full Book Analysis
- Video Summary
See a complete list of the characters in The Scarlet Letter and in-depth analyses of Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl, Governor Bellingham, and Mistress Hibbins.
- Character List
- Hester Prynne
- Roger Chillingworth
- Arthur Dimmesdale
- Governor Bellingham
- Mistress Hibbins
Here's where you'll find analysis of the literary devices in The Scarlet Letter , from the major themes to motifs, symbols, and more.
- Point of View
- Metaphors & Similes
Questions & Answers
Explore our selection of frequently asked questions about The Scarlet Letter and find the answers you need.
- Did Hester ever love Chillingworth?
- What type of work does Chillingworth take on in New England?
- What does Dimmesdale believe he sees when the meteor lights up the night sky?
- How does Pearl react when she first sees her mother without the scarlet A?
- What does Hester do after Dimmesdale’s death?
- What is the purpose of “The Custom-House”?
- What is the first clue that Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father?
- What are Hester Prynne’s secrets?
- What is Reverend Dimmesdale’s illness?
- Why is Roger Chillingworth called “the leech”?
- How does Hester Prynne’s reputation change in the course of the novel?
- What makes Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale finally feel hope about their future?
- Why does Hester choose the forest to meet Dimmesdale and Chillingworth?
- What events mark the novel’s climax?
- What does the last sentence of the novel mean?
Find the quotes you need to support your essay, or refresh your memory of The Scarlet Letter by reading these key quotes.
- Important Quotes Explained
- Female Independence
- Nature vs. Society
- The Custom-House
- Chapters 1 – 2
- Chapters 3 – 4
- Chapters 5 – 6
- Chapters 7 – 8
- Chapters 9 – 10
- Chapters 11-12
- Chapters 13 – 14
- Chapters 15 – 16
- Chapters 17 – 18
- Chapters 19 – 20
- Chapters 21 – 22
- Chapters 23 – 24
- The Scarlet A
- Boston in the 1600s
Test your knowledge of The Scarlet Letter with quizzes about every section, major characters, themes, symbols, and more.
- Full Book Quiz
- Chapters 1-2
- Chapters 3-4
- Chapters 5-6
- Chapters 7-8
- Chapters 9-10
- Chapters 13-14
- Chapters 15-16
- Chapters 19-20
- Chapters 21-22
- Chapters 23-24
- Analysis of Major Characters
- Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Get ready to ace your The Scarlet Letter paper with our suggested essay topics, helpful essays about historical and literary context, a sample A+ student essay, and more.
- Historical Context Essay
- Literary Context Essay
- Central Idea Essay
- Mini Essays
- A+ Student Essay
- Suggested Essay Topics
- What Does the Ending Mean?
Go further in your study of The Scarlet Letter with background information, movie adaptations, and links to the best resources around the web.
- Suggestions for Further Reading
- Related Links
- Movie Adaptations
- Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter Background
The Scarlet Letter (No Fear)
The scarlet letter sparknotes literature guide.
- View all Available Study Guides
Take a Study Break
QUIZ: Is This a Taylor Swift Lyric or a Quote by Edgar Allan Poe?
The 7 Most Embarrassing Proposals in Literature
The 6 Best and Worst TV Show Adaptations of Books
QUIZ: Which Greek God Are You?
The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on January 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312
The Scarlet Letter opens with a description of the prison in which Hester has been incarcerated for adultery. This prison is an ugly, necessary building, constructed very early in the history of Boston colony. Boston lore holds that Anne Hutchinson, the infamous spiritual advisor and “heretic,” once walked into this same prison and that a rosebush sprang up under her sainted feet. The omniscient narrator hopes that these roses will symbolize a kind of moral sweetness that will otherwise be hard to find in this novel.
Cite this page as follows:
"The Scarlet Letter - Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis" eNotes Publishing Ed. eNotes Editorial. eNotes.com, Inc. eNotes.com 4 Mar. 2023 <https://www.enotes.com/topics/scarlet-letter/chapter-summaries#chapter-summaries-chapter-1-summary-analysis>
Note: When citing an online source, it is important to include all necessary dates. The citation above will include either 2 or 3 dates.
- If there are three dates, the first date is the date of the original publication in traditional print. The second is the date of publication online or last modification online. The last date is today's date — the date you are citing the material.
- If there are two dates, the date of publication and appearance online is the same, and will be the first date in the citation. The second date is today's date — the date you are citing the material.
See eNotes Ad-Free
Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
Already a member? Log in here.
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
Explore Study Guides
Preface to Shakespeare
by Samuel Johnson
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
by Jonathan Edwards
by Joseph Addison, Richard Steele
by John Wyndham
Tell Them Not to Kill Me!
by Juan Rulfo
Thank You, M'am
by Langston Hughes
by Luigi Pirandello
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Light We Carry
by Michelle Obama
South to America
by Imani Perry
The Song of the Cell
by Siddhartha Mukherjee
by Cormac McCarthy
by Barbara Kingsolver
The Myth of Normal
by Gabor Maté
The Daughter of Auschwitz
by Tova Friedman, Malcolm Brabant
by Javier Zamora
The Marriage Portrait
by Maggie O'Farrell
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child
by Francisco Jiménez
Young Goodman Brown
The Minister's Black Veil
The Ambitious Guest
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
The Blithedale Romance
The House of the Seven Gables
The Wives of the Dead
- My Preferences
- My Reading List
- The Scarlet Letter
- Literature Notes
- The Scarlet Letter at a Glance
- Book Summary
- About The Scarlet Letter
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis
- The Custom-House
- Character Analysis
- Hester Prynne
- Arthur Dimmesdale
- Roger Chillingworth
- Character Map
- Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography
- Critical Essays
- Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
- The Puritan Setting of The Scarlet Letter
- The Scarlet Letter as a Gothic Romance
- The Structure of The Scarlet Letter
- Famous Quotes from The Scarlet Letter
- Film Versions of The Scarlet Letter
- Full Glossary for The Scarlet Letter
- Essay Questions
- Practice Projects
- Cite this Literature Note
Summary and Analysis Chapter 1
In this first chapter, Hawthorne sets the scene of the novel — Boston of the seventeenth century. It is June, and a throng of drably dressed Puritans stands before a weather-beaten wooden prison. In front of the prison stands an unsightly plot of weeds, and beside it grows a wild rosebush, which seems out of place in this scene dominated by dark colors.
In this chapter, Hawthorne sets the mood for the "tale of human frailty and sorrow" that is to follow. His first paragraph introduces the reader to what some might want to consider a (or the ) major character of the work: the Puritan society. What happens to each of the major characters — Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth — results from the collective ethics, morals, psyche, and unwavering sternness and rigidity of the individual Puritans, whom Hawthorne introduces figuratively in this chapter and literally and individually in the next.
Dominating this chapter are the decay and ugliness of the physical setting, which symbolize the Puritan society and culture and foreshadow the gloom of the novel. The two landmarks mentioned, the prison and the cemetery, point not only to the "practical necessities" of the society, but also to the images of punishment and providence that dominate this culture and permeate the entire story.
The rosebush, its beauty a striking contrast to all that surrounds it — as later the beautifully embroidered scarlet A will be — is held out in part as an invitation to find "some sweet moral blossom" in the ensuing, tragic tale and in part as an image that "the deep heart of nature" (perhaps God) may look more kindly on the errant Hester and her child (the roses among the weeds) than do her Puritan neighbors. Throughout the work, the nature images contrast with the stark darkness of the Puritans and their systems.
Hawthorne makes special note that this colony earlier set aside land for both a cemetery and a prison, a sign that all societies, regardless of their good intentions, eventually succumb to the realities of man's nature (sinful/punishment/prison) and destiny (mortal/death/cemetery). In those societies in which the church and state are the same, when man breaks the law, he also sins. From Adam and Eve on, man's inability to obey the rules of the society has been his downfall.
The Puritan society is symbolized in the first chapter by the plot of weeds growing so profusely in front of the prison. Nevertheless, nature also includes things of beauty, represented by the wild rosebush. The rosebush is a strong image developed by Hawthorne which, to the sophisticated reader, may sum up the whole work. First it is wild; that is, it is of nature, God given, or springing from the "footsteps of the sainted Anne Hutchinson." Second, according to the author, it is beautiful — offering "fragrant and fragile beauty to the prisoner" — in a field of "unsightly vegetation." Third, it is a "token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to" the prisoner entering the structure or the "condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom." Finally, it is a predominant image throughout the romance. Much the same sort of descriptive analyses that can be written about the rosebush could be ascribed to the scarlet letter itself or to little Pearl or, perhaps, even to the act of love that produced them both.
Finally, the author points toward many of the images that are significant to an understanding of the novel. In this instance, he names the chapter "The Prison Door." The reader needs to pay particular attention to the significance of the prison generally and the prison door specifically. The descriptive language in reference to the prison door — ". . . heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes" and the "rust on the ponderous iron-work . . . looked more antique than anything else in the New World" and, again, ". . . seemed never to have known a youthful era" — foreshadows and sets the tone for the tale that follows.
Cornhill part of Washington Street. Now part of City Hall Plaza.
Isaac Johnson a settler (1601-1630) who left land to Boston; he died shortly after the Puritans arrived. His land would be north of King's Chapel (1688), which can be visited today.
burdock any of several plants with large basal leaves and purple-flowered heads covered with hooked prickles.
pigweed any of several coarse weeds with dense, bristly clusters of small green flowers. Also called lamb's quarters.
apple-peru a plant that is part of the nightshade family; poisonous.
portal here, the prison door.
Anne Hutchinson a religious dissenter (1591-1643). In the 1630s she was excommunicated by the Puritans and exiled from Boston and moved to Rhode Island.
Previous The Custom-House
Next Chapter 2
has been added to your
Removing #book# from your Reading List will also remove any bookmarked pages associated with this title.
Are you sure you want to remove #bookConfirmation# and any corresponding bookmarks?
The Scarlet Letter is the final product. The story begins in seventeenth-century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. A young woman, Hester Prynne, is led from the town prison with her infant daughter, Pearl, in her arms and the scarlet letter “A” on her breast. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery.
The Scarlet Letter | Chapter Summaries Share See Chapter Summaries Chart Timeline of Events 1850 Hawthorne finds the scarlet letter and the manuscript of the story. The Custom-House Before 1642 Hester and Dimmesdale have an affair; she gives birth to Pearl and is convicted of adultery. Chapter 2 June 1642
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 historical novel The Scarlet Letter explores guilt, revenge, and redemption in colonial America. Hawthorne blends supernatural elements with psychological insight in his story of one woman’s public punishment for adultery. Explore a character analysis of Hester Prynne , plot summary, and important quotes. Summary
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis PDF Last Updated on January 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312 The Scarlet Letter opens with a description of the prison in which Hester has been...
The Scarlet Letter: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis Next Chapter 2 Themes and Colors Key Summary Analysis A crowd of men and women assembles near a dilapidated wooden prison. The narrator remarks that the founders of every new settlement have always sought first to build a prison and a graveyard.
The Scarlet Letter Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis Chapter 1 Summary In this first chapter, Hawthorne sets the scene of the novel — Boston of the seventeenth century. It is June, and a throng of drably dressed Puritans stands before a weather-beaten wooden prison.