From the very beginning of the novel, Hawthorne seems to ask the question: How do we look at beauty? The first chapter presents the reader with the juxtaposed images of a rose-bush and a prison. Hawthorne sets the seen with a jail that possessed a "beetle-browed and gloomy front." Even further, Hawthorne suggest a relationship between the aesthetic quality of the prison and its nature: "like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era." Juxtaposed in front of this image is a rose-bush "which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in."
The rest of the novel is rich in these juxtapositions. These juxtapositions appear to beg the question: What does beauty mean in the novel? Are there intrinsic qualities to beauty, namely, qualities that betray moral qualities, or is beauty merely a shade over the moral qualities? Also, how does the society view beauty? Does beauty always suggest purity? Does the novel suggest a dichotomy between beauty and ugliness? Finally, how do these aesthetic descriptors change the identity of each character?