Chapter One: The Prison Door
A large crowd of Puritans stands outside of the prison, waiting for the door to open. The prison is described as a, "wooden jail ... already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front." The iron on the prison is rusting andcreates an overall appearance of decay.
Outside the building, next to the door, a rosebush stands in full bloom. The narrator remarks that it is possible that "this rosebush ... had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison door." He then plucks one of the roses and offers it to the reader as a "moral blossom" to be found later in the story.Analysis
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 iscoated, 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 servesas 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 thebeautiful 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.
The rosebush itself is an obvious symbol of passion and the wilderness, and it makes its most famous reappearance later when Pearl announces that she was made not by a father and mother, or by God, but rather wasplucked from the rosebush. Roses appear several times in the course of the story, always symbolizing Hester's inability to control her passion and tame it so that she can assimilate to Puritan society. Pearl too is marked by this wildness.
Hawthorne cleverly links the rosebush to the wilderness surrounding Boston, commenting that the bush may be a remnant of the former forest which covered thearea. This is important, because it is only in the forest wilderness where the Puritans' laws fail to have any force. This is where Dimmesdale can find freedom to confess in the dark, and it is where he and Hester can meet away from the eyes of those who would judge them. But the rosebush is close enough to the town center to suggest that the passionate wilderness, in the form of Hester Prynne,has been creeping into Boston.
That the rosebush is in full bloom, meanwhile, suggests that Hester is at the peak of her passion, referring to the fact that she has given birth as a result of her adulterous affair. The narrator’s comment that the rose may serve as a "moral blossom" in the story is therefore a note that Hester's child will provide the moral of the story.
Chapter Two: The MarketPlace
The crowd in front of the jail is a mixture of men and women, all maintaining severe looks of disapproval. Several of the women begin to discuss Hester Prynne, and they soon vow that Hester would not have received such a light sentence for her crime if they had been the judges. One woman, the ugliest of the group, goes so far as to advocate death for Hester.
Hester emerges from...