The Scarlet Letter

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The unnamed narrator is inspired to write The Scarlet Letter after discovering the scarlet letter and fragments of its story in an attic of the Custom House. He describes the novel as a tale of "human frailty and sorrow" and encourages the reader to heed its moral. Throughout the novel, the narrator favors Hester against the Puritans who persecute her. His writing often reads as if he's pained to have to tell such a sad story that involves the downfall of innocent victims at the hands of an oppressive society.

The Narrator Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

The The Scarlet Letter quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sin Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Scarlet Letter published in 2015.
The Custom House Quotes
It is a good lesson - though it may often be a hard one - for a man... to step aside out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recognized, and to find how utterly devoid of significance, beyond that circle, is all that he achieves, and all he aims at.
Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator of The Scarlet Letter prefaces his "romance" with an account of his inspiration: he found documents about Hester Prynne's life during his otherwise bland employment as a surveyor at a customs house. He goes into far more detail than necessary, however, as he describes the other individuals -- the father of the Custom House, the Collector -- who surrounded him there. As he describes these various characters, the narrator takes this opportunity to reflect that it is good for a person to occasionally seek to extricate himself from his own social circumstance. We will see characters trapped in such social circumstances throughout the narrative, and this perhaps unusual introduction thus serves to introduce us to the tensions between individual and collective identities that will motivate much of the novel's action.

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Chapter 1 Quotes
The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.
Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the narrator introduces the particular characters of Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, he grounds their narrative with commentaries about the Puritan colony's past. He describes the novel's first specific setting (the prison) with a focus on its historical presence in the colony, as an early and necessary feature of this settlement. The narrator thus opens up themes of historical traditions and social functions that will resonate throughout the novel. Sin (which leads to punishment and, eventually, death) also appears as an inevitable aspect of human life, a product of mere human existence as well as human passion. Even in a supposed utopia, it's assumed that sin will always be present—thus the necessity for a prison and a cemetery.

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The Narrator Character Timeline in The Scarlet Letter

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in The Scarlet Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Custom House
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
A nameless narrator (who has a similar biography to Hawthorne) describes his job as chief executive officer of... (full context)
Sin Theme Icon
One rainy day, the narrator discovered a peculiar package in the upstairs storage area of the Custom House. The package... (full context)
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
The narrator mentions that he's since lost his job at the Custom House. He draws a distinction... (full context)
Chapter 1
Sin Theme Icon
A crowd of men and women assembles near a dilapidated wooden prison. The narrator remarks that the founders of every new settlement have always sought first to build a... (full context)
Chapter 6
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
The narrator describes Pearl as the human manifestation of Hester's sin: Pearl is filled with a sense... (full context)
Chapter 21
Puritanism Theme Icon
The narrator remarks that the Puritan style of celebration lacks the grandness and gaiety that events like... (full context)
Chapter 24
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
The narrator says the story he's told has one moral: be true, and show the world your... (full context)