top of page
  • Alexie V. Zotomayor

Hawthorne’s Boston

It’s like turning the pages of “The Scarlet Letter” and following Hester Prynne’s journey to her redemption.

The vestiges of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s setting of the colony and what is left of the real Massachusetts Bay Colony welcome us in downtown Boston. As enthralling as “The Scarlet Letter” is, so is Boston and its old world charm.

The walk to the King’s Chapel from the old city hall is fraught with excitement. I have been keeping mental notes of the places and characters mentioned in the book. There it is, at the corner of Beacon and Tremont streets, the chapel where the character Reverend Dimmesdale delivered his election speech.

The marker reads that the church was founded in 1686 and the first building erected at the site was the first church of England in the city.

As I enter the chapel, my eyes dart from side to side, and slowly focusing on the pulpit. It’s like I am in trance. I recall Hawthorne’s novel and the ubiquitous Puritan values and ways. The pulpit takes me back to the setting of the novel, where Reverend Dimmesdale struggles to confess to the public his sin, his discomfort in dealing with his inner demons, his longing to be released from the torture of keeping his illicit affair with Hester Prynne. I even imagine the dreadful Mr. Chillingworth lurking in the shadows.

A nudge from a significant other who patiently waits by my side reminds me of other items on my bucket list and that it’s time to proceed.

A few steps from the chapel lies the King’s Chapel graveyard that Hawthorne alluded to in the last chapter of “The Scarlet Letter.” This is where the upper echelons of the old Boston society were buried including the real Governor Winthrop--governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The novel mentions him in death throes as the reverend takes to the scaffold and divulges his secret at the top of his lungs, a big revelation that nobody gets to hear as it is done in the middle of the night when everybody else is in bed. Of course Governor Bellingham and his sister the “witch” Miss Gibbins are the only ones who thought they heard something but they couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

From the graveyard, we take the cobblestoned path to find our next adventures on foot on the Freedom Trail.

There’s the Old Custom House for which Hawthorne allotted a chapter to introduce the story “The Scarlet Letter.”

As we take our Uber ride back to Cambridge, I cannot wait to flip through the pages of the book and find more allusions to the real places in the old Boston.

In the meantime, another ride back to downtown will take us to the Freedom Trail. It’s another story for another time as I wallow still in my recollection of “The Scarlet Letter,” snippets of which float in my head as images of downtown Boston linger.

bottom of page