Thesis Title

Most Worthy of Interpretation: the Hermeneutics of Personal Perception and Communal Narration in Nathaniel Hawthorne's the Scarlet Letter

Date of Graduation

Summer 2006


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Etta Madden


When Hawthorne’s narrator presents readers with the rose at the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne gives readers the duty of finding the moral of the novel. Hawthorne expects his readers to compare their personal perceptions of the novel with the organic theory of society and portrayal of American history to find the moral. Hawthorne expects readers to evaluate those communal narrations using their comparisons and to give those communal narrations personalized meaning. Hawthorne’s duty to readers, therefore, was the opposite of what President James K. Polk had stated the duty was for American citizens in his inaugural address five years before the novel was written. This study explores Hawthorne’s duty to his readers by examining the hermeneutic approach that Hawthorne outlines in The Custom-House, the introduction to The Scarlet Letter; the presentation of the rose to the reader and how to rose corresponds to the discourses of flowers prevalent when Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter; and the two examines Hawthorne gives in The Scarlet Letter of the townspeople using their personal perceptions to evaluate the communal narrations given to them.


Nathaniel Hawthorne, Scarlet letter, hermeneutics, American Romanticism, Puritan law

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Patrick S. Williams