The Scarlet Letter

Explain the chapter's metaphoric importance to the rest of the story.

Chapter 1

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This opening chapter of the main narrative introduces several of the images and themes within the story to follow. These images will recur in several settings and serve as metaphors for the underlying conflict.

In the manner that Hawthorne describes it, the prison embodies the unyielding severity of puritan law: old, rusted, yet strong with an "iron-clamped oaken door." Puritan law is coated, in this account, in the rust of tradition and obsolete purpose. But despite the evolution of society, the laws have not kept up. As a result, the door remains tightly shut and iron-clamped. It seems it will take a superhuman force to somehow weaken the mores that control the society in which our story will take place.

With the reference to Ann (actually Anne) Hutchinson, the prison also serves as a metaphor for the authority of the regime, which will not tolerate deviance from a prescribed set of standards, values, and morals. Hutchinson was a religious but freewheeling woman who disagreed with Puritanical teachings, and as a result she was imprisoned in Boston and then banished. She eventually was a founder of antinomian Rhode Island. Hawthorne claims that it is possible that the beautiful rosebush growing directly at the prison door sprang from her footsteps. This implies that Puritanical authoritarianism may be so rigid that it obliterates both freedom and beauty.