The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.
This is such a huge book for American classic literature, most kids even reading it in school, yet I have never read it until now. Like, it wasn’t even assigned to us for school or anything. But the story of Hester has been said so many times that I felt like I knew what I was getting into, and I expected not to like it. Most of the reviews on Goodreads are not very positive – many people don’t like the way it is written. I understand that. I had to read sections of this book multiple times to understand it, or go over the sentence a few times, looking for a verb. But overall, I felt like this pushed me as a reader. I read mostly young adult – and while there’s nothing wrong with that – it isn’t always the most challenging for me. The tropes are used all the time, the vocabulary is pretty basic, and for me, a fast reader, it’s easy to pick up a book and finish it in a day or two. I’m cool with this most of the time, but every once in a while, I need a classic. For me, it’s almost essential to pick up a classic as a ‘mood read.’ If I’m not up for interpreting old language, it’s not going to go that well. But, I guess the stars aligned for me and this book.
BECAUSE I LOVED IT.
The Scarlet Letter is such a dark book, although not classically in a way we would see a dark book. It doesn’t have any particularly supernatural or terrifying in it, but the Puritans had such a strict community. Hester is punished with the Scarlet A for her sins. I felt like there were so many themes throughout this entire book (and themes not just imposed by literature teachers). There is a lot in here about sin, government, and just the overall way we treat people. It deals with some dark subject matter, but it’s really interesting to see the way that the community deals with Hester, and how she deals with them.
Hester is such an interesting character. I loved the times she was almost proud of her scarlet letter. She could get a little confident and sassy during those times and I was so proud of her for that! But as Pearl grows up, she gets a little more ashamed of it. Pearl was a great character for helping Hester expand as well. Pearl is so curious, just like any child, and she asks so many questions about the Scarlet Letter. One point that really got me was when Pearl said that she wanted one or when Pearl didn’t recognize her mother without the A. That really shows the effect of the letter on even the people closest around her.
The problem Dimmesdale had was also a really interesting conflict. I liked seeing him deal with what he did and also his religion. This balance was such a struggle for him, as it would be for any person. Hester’s will to protect him at the beginning was also very interesting. It would have been so much easier for her just to say who Pearl’s father was, but she just refused. Dimmesdale and Hester had a very unique relationship as well that I really liked reading about. It showed all the conflict between what he did, but also living in sin, which at the same time he would preach against. The restraints of the Puritans were so restraining for him.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The writing could be a little hard to understand, but it pushed me as a reader. I loved the story and everything that happened to the characters. The conclusion was just perfect!