The Scarlet Letter and Revolutions Abroad
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W HEN Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in the fall of A, (T I 849, the fact and idea of revolution were much on his mind. In "The Custom-House" sketch, while forewarning the reader of the darkness in the story to follow, he explains that "this uncaptivating effect is perhaps due to the period of hardly accom- plished revolution and still seething turmoil, in which the story shaped itself."' His explicit reference is to his recent ouster from the Salem Custom House, his "beheading" as he calls it, but we know that the death of his mother and anxiety about where and how he would support his family added to his sense of upheaval. Lying behind all these referents, however, are additional ones that have gone unnoticed: actual revolutions, past and present, which Hawthorne had been reading about and pondering for almost twenty consecutive months. These provided the political context for The Scarlet Letter and shaped the structure, characterizations, and themes of the work.
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