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Top 10 Notes: The Scarlet Letter

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne made a living as a writer, mainly composing novels and short stories. “The Scarlet Letter” is one of his most famous novels. Welcome to and in this installment of Mojo Notes, we’ll be exploring ten things you should know about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Special thanks to our users jwiking62 and ghostleon for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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This is a 19th century novel about an adulterous woman in 17th century Salem. Welcome to and in this installment of Mojo Notes, we’ll be exploring ten things you should know about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

#10: About the Author

Born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne started writing as a youth and worked as a magazine editor following college. After publishing his first novel in the late 1820s, he continued to write short stories and fictional works. Hawthorne also worked in politics. He died in 1864.

#9: Influences and Inspirations
“The Scarlet Letter” is a fictional novel categorized under the romantic genre of literature. Since Hawthorne makes allusions to real-life people, it’s also considered a work of historical fiction. Religious references also make an appearance.

#8: Settings and Era

Hawthorne was inspired by the 17th century Salem witch trials for the novel, which is set around this time and in the town’s surrounding areas. During this period, the townspeople had very strict moral beliefs and expected everyone to behave according to their religion’s rules.

#7: Plot

Narrated by an all-knowing third person, “The Scarlet Letter” follows the story of Hester Prynne who is charged with committing adultery. The townspeople force her to wear a red letter ‘A’ on her dress and to be publicly shamed for her crime. During this time, her husband, who’s believed to be dead, sees his adulterous wife and pledges to enact revenge on the father of his wife’s child. He disguises himself as a physician named Roger Chillingworth and threatens Hester to keep his identity secret. After being released from prison, Hester lives as an outcast with her daughter Pearl. Meanwhile, Roger moves in with the sickly Reverend Dimmesdale and discovers the minister has a scarlet A on his chest. Though Hester and the Reverend make plans to escape, his guilt ultimately gets the better of him. This leads to Dimmesdale’s public confession and subsequent death.

#6: Hester Prynne

Hester is a young woman whose husband is lost at sea. So when she gives birth to a baby after almost 2 years, the town accuses her of adultery. Since the act was considered a crime at the time, Hester must be punished. She doesn’t only admit to wrongdoing but accepts public humiliation. After being cast out of the town, she becomes a hardened woman and plans to escape with the Reverend. Though that fails, she does leave the town for a few years. Upon her return, Hester once more becomes an accepted and valued member.

#5: Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale

As the town minister, Reverend Dimmesdale is an intelligent and caring man who can give a very good sermon. Though he appears dedicated to his beliefs, he demonstrates his hypocrisy by having an affair with a married woman. However, the Reverend isn’t without a conscience as it’s this guilt that ultimately destroys him. When he nears the end of his life, Dimmesdale finally confesses his crime and accepts his death as punishment.

#4: Roger Chillingworth

Actually Hester’s husband’s in disguise, Roger Chillingworth is what this old scholar goes by when he finally reaches Salem. Two years ago, Chillingworth sent his wife there while he took care of business back home. When he realizes she cheated on him, he directs his revenge towards the male perpetuator. After convincing everyone he’s a physician, he reveals his evil side by threatening his wife and suspecting the Reverend. However, Chillingworth isn’t all that bad: after the Reverend’s confession and subsequent death, he forgets about enacting justice and leaves his daughter a generous inheritance.

#3: Values and Themes

One of the themes that drives the plot of “The Scarlet Letter” is revenge, specifically Chillingworth’s quest to find the man who impregnated his wife. Because adultery was a crime during the time of the novel, the battle between good and evil as well as justice and wrongdoing are also explored. Further themes include guilt, hypocrisy, forgiveness, fate and free will.

#2: Modern Popularity

Because it gave an American slant to moral and religious issues, “The Scarlet Letter” soon found success. Viewed as his best work, the novel launched Hawthorne’s into fame and fortune and was quickly put into mass production.

#1: Adaptations

Due to its universal themes and enduring popularity, Hawthorne’s novel has been adapted for theater and referenced in music and literature. It has also been the basis of numerous films, ranging from silent pictures to TV miniseries and the teen comedy “Easy A.”

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite piece of “The Scarlet Letter” trivia? With new top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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