Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Written in the mid 1800’s the book takes place in 1600’s Puritan Boston. Hester Prynne, having come to America several years prior without her husband, is being publically punished for having a child from an adulterous relationship.  She is forced to wear an “A” on her breast to mark her sin, among other punishments.  She refuses to name the man, who we quickly ascertain is the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.  Also at the scene is Hester’s long-lost husband in disguise as Roger Chillingworth. He procures a promise from Hester not to reveal his true identity and quickly begins a mission to uncover the identity of her partner and wreck revenge upon him.

Through the years, the child, Pearl, grows into an unusual, “impish sprite” and Hester begins to find her way in a shunning society as a seamstress.  Hester adorns her “A” with gold thread and much ornate embroidery. (In my book club discussion we liked to say she “bedazzled” it.)  Dimmesdale punishes himself for his sin and becomes physically ill. Roger Chillingworth, a self-educated, intelligent man, re-invents himself as a doctor and moves in with Dimmesdale in order to treat his illness.  Chillingworth quickly figures out that Dimmesdale was Hester’s illicit partner and set about to ruin mental and physical well-being.

This book of classic literature is rife with symbolism, foreshadowing, and lectures on morality.  Hester’s character confused and delighted me.  I was confused as to why she would allow both of the men in her life to remain in secret while she is so openly reviled.  However, her in-your-face independence with her “bedazzled A” and making her own way in a male-dominated society, made me stand up and cheer.

There is also quite a message of true repentance.  One can see Hester’s peace of mind from having her sin out in the open and taking her punishment with humility versus the agony that Dimmesdale endures while hiding his sin. And then there is Chillingworth and his own brand of evil; he becomes a grizzled old man, showing us that Satan does not support his minions.

All of that being said, you must ‘get into the lingo’ of Hawthorne.  There were times when I would float back up to present day and find the book so melodramatic that I would get the giggles. Hester’s soliloquy in the forest would make a great piece for high-school drama class.  All in all, a “must-read” for any literature aficionado.

4 Stars (Rated PG for adult themes)

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful review. I found the SL quite timeless and poignant. My review: