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The Scarlet Letter

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Point of View

The Scarlet Letter is written from an omniscient third-person perspective in which the narrator describes the thoughts and feeling of the main characters as well as the general sentiments of the townspeople, which shows how the characters function in their larger community. Since the characters are often reserved and secretive, the narrator’s commentary on what they are actually experiencing internally is very important. The narrator also frequently adds commentary about characters and their actions, which shapes the reader’s perception. For example, he laments how Dimmesdale cannot overcome his fears and doubts, and this might make a reader more likely to see Dimmesdale as a weak and ineffective character. The narrator addresses the reader directly, calling attention to the fact that we are participating in an interpretation of a work of fiction.

After the initial framing device of the introduction, told from the point of view of two hundred years after the events, the entire story is told as a fictionalized re-creation of events the narrator has learned about, positioning the story as an embroidered version of true events. (In fact, Hawthorne invented the scrap of Hester’s A the narrator finds, and the entire book is fiction.) The narrator maintains this “based on a true story” effect by referring to rumors and reports handed down through the years, such as when he describes the mark on Dimmesdale’s chest, saying “according to these highly respectable witnesses.” He explains several of the theories of how the mark could have gotten there, but does not identify any of them as being the correct answer. By not always providing a single, fixed explanation, Hawthorne raises questions about the nature of truth and storytelling, as well as peoples’ tendency to fabricate stories out of real life events.