The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Key Questions and Answers

Summary Key Questions and Answers

6) What is the purpose of “The Custom-House”?

The long introductory chapter titled “The Custom-House” explains why and how the novel was written by acknowledging that a real-life discovery was the seed of the tale. The narrator discovers a cloth embroidered with a scarlet “A” along with a manuscript written by an earlier employee of the Custom-House. The narrator also describes a lot about his place of work, his job, his society, and himself, all of which contrast with the story he writes after he loses his job. This introductory chapter establishes the narrator’s voice, style, and tone, and roots his “romance” in what appears to be autobiographical fact.