The introduction of The Scarlet Letter is not substantial to the story itself, but it does give the reader a good background information. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlet Letter, describes his own involvement in the Custom House, the house itself, and his coworkers there. To indicate the time frame of the period, Hawthorne included certain historical elements for the reader to interpret. He also describes how he came upon the inspiration of writing The Scarlet Letter. Even though the introduction goes into intensely deep descriptions, it was not important to my enjoyment of the book.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is from the town of Salem, and he is an ex-employee at the Custom House. He speaks about his affection for his hometown of Salem and recalls his own ancestor arriving in Salem about two hundred and twenty-five years prior to him. Hawthorne is the chief executive officer of the Custom House, so his duties are to supervise all activities that take place. The Custom House is a large, spacious brick building with a big figure of an American eagle over the front door and a banner of the republic hanging from the highest point of the roof.
The role of the Custom House is to monitor all the merchandise that enters and exits the city. Most of the people Hawthorne worked with were old retired sea captains. He goes into long descriptions describing each of his coworkers. The one that has been there the longest is the collector named General Miller. The oldest member is the patriarch, who is a permanent Inspector. Last is the unnamed officer, and he is the one who actually keeps the Custom House from coming to a dead stop. Hawthorne includes many historical descriptions in the introduction to allow the reader to get a feel of the historical setting.
As he describes his past, he mentions that it has been about two and a half centuries since the first of his ancestors came to the settlement. Because there were Puritans during this period, it also indicates a period a little after the revolutionary age. The late 1800s had Whigs; therefore, since the majority of the officers working in the Custom House are Whigs, the time frame is around then. Hawthorne also mentions the ships from Africa. This indicates the slave trade was occurring. He also states the fact that Salem has begun to slow down because Boston and New York are starting to grow and become important cities.
This statement defiantly shows the approximate time period of the book. All these little hints help the reader better understand the characters he is reading about. Hawthorne received the inspiration to write The Scarlet Letter when he found a small package on the second story of the Custom House. After looking around in the chamber above the collectors room, he finds a small package that catches his eye. The package once belonged to Surveyor Jonathan Pue, who worked in the Custom House about a hundred years before Hawthorne did.
In the package were documents of private nature and a worn and faded piece of fine red cloth with torn gold embroidery around it in the shape of a capital letter A. He notices that the red cloth letter is accompanied by explanatory documents, written by Surveyor Pue himself. The papers are a record of the life and conversation of a woman named Hester Prynne. The introduction was written in great detail and had a lot of information, but it did not assist me to enjoy the book more. I liked learning about the Custom House and his coworkers, but Hawthorne has a tendency to illustrate things too much.
He ranted on about certain subjects for a number of pages, and because of his excess information, it caused me to become bored with the introduction. His writing style didnt help much either. I couldnt understand some parts very well, so I had to reread and reread some sections in order to comprehend them. This became very annoying and added to my dissatisfaction of the introduction. The abundant information Hawthorne provided might help some people understand the characters they are reading about, but I think the reader could find that out simply by reading the book.
The introduction serves its purpose by introducing and telling some background about the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and explaining the origin of the novel. Numerous historical elements are hinted to show the time frame of the setting. I think its very interesting that the author found this story in an old room and decided to turn it into a novel. The introduction is not an essential component of the book, but it might help readers who desire more detail on the background of the novel.