September 22, 2004

"The Custom House" / Scarlet Letter Links

These are my thoughts on "The Custom House"...did the novel strike these questions in your minds?

Close Reading 1-2
Here are my thoughts....did anyone else think of these questions being born from the novel?

The preface to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, “The Custom House,” serves to introduce the society and times in which the story is set; also, this essay provides the background story for the finding of the scarlet letter. “The Custom House” also provides a definition of what a romance is. Excerpts from “The Custom House” essay closely link to The Scarlet Letter’s text. Two notable examples of these parallels can be found in the descriptions given of the townspeople in Salem who live by ancient moral laws, and the description of contentment within the city limits of Salem versus residing elsewhere.
Let’s begin with the latter: the description of how happy one is when one is in Salem, versus not being in Salem. After painting a picture of the seascape in the town of Salem in “The Custom House” essay, Hawthorne continues to say, “…and yet, though, invariably happiest elsewhere, there is within me a feeling for old Salem, which, in lack of a better phrase, I must be content to call affection.” This closely parallels the return of Hester Prynne from England to Boston. In the conclusion of The Scarlet Letter, Hester “disappeared…yet no tidings…unquestionably authentic were received.” Shortly after this sentence, the reader finds that Hester returns to Boston to, “the home of so intense a former life, was more dreary and desolate than she could ever bear.” Clearly, Hester was happier in England, yet made her way home to Boston. Happiness elsewhere, but returning home, is a parallel theme from “The Custom House” to “Conclusion.”
And now for the former: the laws. “The Custom House” offers readers a glimpse at a sober, dreary people, who are governed by antiquated ideals, “…human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be jailed and replanted too long a series of generations in the same worn-out plot.” Ultimately, Hawthorne not only makes a statement about human nature, but also comments on the fact that no new ideas are being introduced into the town, and the governing laws do not suffice the changing times. Rather the laws agree with a set of moral values; in the case of the novel, Puritanical values. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is blamed for a sin of the flesh that violates the moral law governing the land. In “The Recognition,” Dimmesdale says, “Heaven hath granted thee open ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open triumph over evil within thee, and the sorrow without.” Dimmesdale tells Hester the only way penitence for her sin will be had is if Hester confesses to her partner in sins of the flesh. It is in this way the laws are linked in the preface and the novel.
The Scarlet Letter is linked to “The Custom House” essay in many different ways. However, these are two of the most discernable, interesting links that guide the reader to thought provoking questions to ponder. Is sacrificing personal happiness to return home a noble act? Should towns be governed by moral laws, and if so, who sets the boundaries of what is right or what is wrong? The Scarlet Letter asks some questions that readers need to address.

Posted by KatieAikins at September 22, 2004 1:16 PM