The Custom House

The Custom House


“Hawthorne’s controversial of preface to The Scarlet letter, ‘The Custom-House,’ is a book narrated by a nameless person. At first it is considered to be vaguely ‘introductory’ but on the other hand, it is only relevant to novel itself. The narrator shares some few traits by the author of the book who is the chief executive of the custom House of the Salem. Customs are taxes paid into the country on the imports; the “customhouse” is a building where payments of taxes are done. The narrator found the building to be the run-down place, which is established on the rotten wharf in half-finished building. The colleagues are elderly, and they tell same repeated stories. The narrator in this case finds his colleagues to be incompetent as well as, innocuously corrupt. The narrator, on the other hand, he spends most of his times and days in the customhouse where he gets amused when few ships comes to Salem. One day when it was heavily raining, the narrator discovers some of the documents in the untenanted building. As he looks through the piles, the narrator notices that there is a manuscript which is bundled properly by the scarlet, a gold-embroidered cloth which has a shape of letter “A”. The interest of Pue to be in the local history enabled him to write accounts of each events that happened in the past, this happened in two hundred of years before the narrator narrated his story of the customhouse (147).

We also find a narrator mentioning his unease of attempting making a career that comes out as a result of his own writings. He also believes that, his ancestor are the Puritans, whom he is holding in high regards, would sometimes find it being frivolous as well as, “degenerate.” Nevertheless, the narrator decides in writing the experience of the fictional account of the Hester Prynne. He says that sometimes it may not be précised, but still believes that sometimes it might be remarkably faithful to spirits as well as the original general outline. From the first time in preface, the custom House as well as the town of the Salem are both presented as places of emptiness where only the dead people are living, in this case, the general community way of living is well as one being dead the main street is “lounging wearisomely, through the whole extent of the Peninsula”, the custom house is also said to be dead (148).

This paper tries to introduce us to narrators as well as establishing his desires in contributing to the American culture. This narrator seems to be having many things in common with Nathaniel Hawthorne – who worked as the customs officer. Hawthorne lost his job because of political changes. He also had the Puritian ancestors considering their legacy as both a curse as well as, a blessing. The narrator does not only stand-in for the Hawthorne, but he is also carefully constructed in enhancing the aesthetically of the book and the philosophy. Moreover, we can see Hawthorne setting the narrator up to the similar Hester Prynne into significant ways. Like Hester, it is seen that the narrator is spending his days with many people who surrounds him making him feel alienated. His case of relative youth as well as, vitality separates the narrator from the customs officers who had a career.

The narrator in this part tries to point out connections existing between himself as well as, Hester when he tries noting that, one day his name will be reduced to the custom stump, just like, she had been earlier reduced to the piles of the old papers as well as, craps of the clothes. The identification of the narrator and Hester helps the reader in universalizing her story as well as, seeing its application on other society.

Despite the narrator’s devotion to the story of Hester, the narrator gets trouble to writing it. First, the narrator feels that it would be frivolous for his ancestors who are Puritian, and for sure he cannot write until relieved of career responsibilities, which are real. Second, the narrator knows his audience might be in a small number, mostly because the narrator might be relating the events that had happened back of two hundred years. The narrator’s time to spend in the company of other customhouse men taught him that it may be sometimes extremely difficult for him to write, and to make the narrated story accessible to everyone particularly the people who are no longer remarkably young at heart. Although, conversely, the narrator regards it to be part of his challenges trying to tell the story of Hester in a manner in which the story becomes meaningful as well as, emotionally affecting all the readers. The narrator’s last step to prepare in writing is the stopping battling the “real world” concerning the work atmosphere of the story that he narrates.

The narrator here finds the job of writing to be highly therapeutic; in addition, he discovers the writing to be intensely practical in contrary to the assertions of the Puritian ancestors: the narrators introductions are seen to be providing the cogent discourse on the American history as well as their cultures. Hawthorne wrote this story at the time when the America sought in distinguishing itself from centuries of the European tradition in order to produce the uniquely the “American” writers – those people who, like the Hawthorne, would be able to encourage patriotism through enlarging the America’s comparatively sense of the world brief history.

Hawthorne, like the narrator, both had an idea of balancing the need of establishing the weighty past, and equally compelling of needs to write the intriguing as well as, a relevant story but, both does not want to see their works placed in the pigeonhole as “Only” the American”.

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Themes are substantially the subjects, the ideas or central topics, which are addressed, in literary work. While Motifs is the recurring structures, literary devices as well as contrasts helping in developing as well as informing the main themes in the texts. Lastly are symbols. Symbols are the objects or characters or the figures as well as colours, which are used to represent the abstract ideas and concepts. In this novel, many symbols have been used to symbolise something in the novel. In the novel, all different characters in the play have used the themes and motifs as well as the symbols. Some of the characters used them as illustrated below.

Sin, Human condition and Knowledge

These themes are portrayed in differently in the chapters. At first the theme of sin as well as knowledge is both linked together in Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible, on the other hand, begins with a story of Eve as well as Adam who was by then expelled from Eden because of eating from trees of knowledge of evil as well as, diverting. By doing so, Adam and Eve humanness are made aware hence separating them from divine as well as, other creatures. Once they are expelled out of the Garden of Eden, the two are forced to procreate at the same time to toil – the two “labors” which is defining human conditions.

The story of Adam and Eve is recalled by the experiences of Hester as well as Dimmesdale because, in all cases, the sins results in the expulsion plus suffering. However, the results in the knowledge of being a human. In the other hand, the scarlet letter for Hester functions as her passport to travel to regions where women dared to be not tread hence she speculates about her own society as well as herself especially her body than anyone in New England. We also find Hester and Dimmesdale, on the other hand, contemplating their sinfulness on a daily basis as well as trying to reconcile their lived experiences.

The elders of the Puritan argue that the earthly experiences are obstacles which are on paths to the heaven hence, viewing sins as threats to communities which should be suppressed as well as punished.

The Nature of Evil

The theme of the nature of evil is portrayed frequently by many characters in the novel who deliberate about the identity of the “Black Man”, which represents the evil. Many questions have been asked to regard to the theme of evil in the novel throughout the story. Many people would love to get answers concerning whether Chillingworth’s selfishness to the marrying of Hester forced her to be an evil. The confusion regarding the nature as well as the evil causes reveals all problems with Puritan Conceptions regarding to sin.

The book continues to argue that the true evil may have arisen from a close relationship which exists between love as well as, hate. The narrator concludes that both emotions, which depend on a high degree in intimacy as well as, heart-knowledge, render individual dependent. An act of evil is no longer found in the Hester as well as Demmesdale’s lovemaking or in cruel ignorance fathers of the puritan. Evil is poisonous since it is found carefully plotted as well as precisely, which is aiming revenge at Chillingworth, because his love is perverted.

Identity and society

Hester feels shame when she is asked and forced by the Boston populace to put on a badge which indicates humiliation. She is not willing to leave town or imprisoned physically, hence by leaving the Massachusetts Bay Colony may allow her removing s scarlet letter as well as resuming a life which is normal. However, Hester reacts when told by Chillingworth that, she will be considered by the town fathers when she removes the letter. This behaviour has been premised on Hester by the desire of determining her identity than allowing other people to determine for her.


Motifs are the recurring structures, literary devices as well as contrasts helping in developing as well as informing the main themes in the texts. There is a motif of civilization versus the wilderness that is shown in the novel. In The scarlet Letter, the forest which surrounds the town represents the behaviours opposing systems. Civilization is shown by the town, whiles the forest, on the other hand, and represents the space of the natural, not human authority. The nights and days have been used in the novel to emphasize the alternations of the sunlight as well as, the darkness. A person can do a specific activity in the daylight rather than night since in the night many inner natures are said to manifest at that particular time.


Symbols are the objects or characters or the figures as well as colours, which are used to represent the abstract ideas and concepts. In this novel, many symbols have been used to symbolise something in the novel. For example, The Scarlet letter is a symbol, which represents shame, though it becomes a symbol to identify Hester. The pearl, on the other hand, is known to be a character whose primary function in the novel acts as, a symbol.


In summary, from the story of the story of the Customhouse, The scarlet letters’ tale adds legitimacy history and cultures to the Americans history. The story of Hester in this case comes twice removed. The story is filtered for the first time by John Pue, then through the narrator.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The scarlet letter. New York: Chelsea House

Publishers, 2004. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Leland S. Person. The scarlet letter and other writings:

authoritative texts, contexts, criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The scarlet letter with Connections. London: Holt, Rinehart and

Winston, 2000. Print.

Meltzer, Milton. Nathaniel Hawthorne: a biography. London: Twenty-First Century Books,

2007. Print.

Sterling, Laurie A., and Harold Bloom. Bloom’s how to write about Nathaniel Hawthorne.

New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2008. Print.