Hawthornes masterpiece, The Scarlet letter, is set in the puritan New England and, according to what the author says, it is about a true story he read on some old documents he found rolled up in a parchment together with a piece of cloth embroidered with the letter A”. The touch of that strange thing make him experience
a sensation not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning heat, and as if the letter were not of red cloth but, red-hot iron”.
In the old Salem when a woman committed an adultery the community used to condemn her to bring on her breast that mark forever. That very letter had belonged to Hester Prynne that, as her husband was said to have died on a shipwreck, had loved the young minister of the community. The two of them fall in love but the society discovers the mark of the sin only on her and punishes her. And the woman, with a moving generosity, expiates alone in order to save the reputation of the man she loves. At first he accepts, but in the end he feels guilty to madness and will find peace just with the public confession of his sin.