The Historian's Scarlet Letter: Reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's Masterpiece as Social and Cultural History

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This annotated edition of The Scarlet Letter enhances student and reader comprehension of a standard work studied in literature classes, exploring names, places, objects, and allusions.

Fascinated by colonial New England, shaped in part by his ancestors, Nathaniel Hawthorne recreated that world in his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter . A novel that has inspired generations of American authors and regularly appears on required reading lists, The Scarlet Letter presents the story of a young woman who has violated the rules of her culture and suffers public exposure for her act. Men linked to her by love or law conceal their identities and motives through secrecy and silence. Together their lives unfold in 17th-century Massachusetts as Hawthorne envisioned it, exploring human experiences both particular to that historical moment and timeless.

Hawthorne touches on the expectations of Puritan settlers and on the things they feared, including wilderness and the presence of Native Americans, witchcraft, and dissenting voices within their own community. Drawing on the perspective of a social and literary historian, Pennell offers annotations and supporting essays that explain these aspects of the novel's colonial world and that put characters, events, and allusions into their historical contexts, providing readers with greater understanding of a time that may seem far removed from our own yet remains a part of our cultural identity.

  • Makes the novel more easily understandable for a 21st-century audience
  • Provides annotations that identify historical events, persons, and objects as well as allusions to the Bible and other texts familiar to Hawthorne's contemporaries
  • Presents an account of Hawthorne's life and career that helps to explain his interest in the past, including his family's connections to significant events in colonial Massachusetts, some of which caused Hawthorne to see the past as a source of guilt
  • Explores Hawthorne's research into colonial New England and 17th-century England that allowed him to create the context for his characters and to suggest underlying connections between colonial New Englanders and their former home

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