Jan 03

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”

The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter is short novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850.  The story is set in the 1640’s in a Puritan area of the New England Colonies.  The overarching theme of The Scarlet Letter, in my opinion, is how a single incident- in this case adultery has unforeseen consequences that ultimately effects four people.  The Scarlet Letter tells the story of Hester Prynne a young woman who is married to a much older man that sends Hester to America ahead of him.  When he does not show up most people think that he is lost at sea.  While she was separated from her husband she has an affair which leads to the birth of a girl.  Since her husband is nowhere near her the obvious conclusion is that Hester has had an affair and because of this crime that she has committed on humanity she is forced to wear an uppercase A on her chest as her badge of shame.  Hester then is forced to make the march of shame in front of the town and placed on a platform to reveal her lover’s identity.  When she does not admit who he is she is forced to wear the scarlet letter for the rest of her days. 

The story then picks up when the estranged husband finally shows up to see his wife with child.  Even though her husband feels that they have wronged each other with him being a way for long time and her having an affair, all is forgiven between them but he will not forgive the mystery man who is Hester’s lover.  The rest of the book deals with how the four people effected by the affair between Hester and her lover.   There is Hester’s husbands revenge on her lover.  Pearl, Hester’s child, deals with the scorn of the town because they see her as the work of the devil.    Hester still loves the man that fathered her child even though he will not come forward because he would lose all prestige he has built up in the town.  The Scarlet Letter is a complex book that delves into the multifaceted subject of how people deal with sin. 

Reading this book was difficult for me because it took a good deal of concentration and effort to finish it.  I usually read before I go to sleep, it is my way of calming my thoughts and getting ready for bed, but with this book I constantly found myself thinking about other things and I would have to reread page after page to understand what was going on.  Hawthornes writing style is very dry where he builds and builds on what the character is thinking but the story is not moved forward.  The plot of the story is very interesting and using adultery to get his message across, that hiding one’s sins causes more torment than revealing one’s sins, is brave considering this was written in 1850 and divorce was still very taboo.  I give The Scarlet Letter three shells out of five because it was such a hard read due to the writing style but the theme of the book and its underlying meaning can teach valuable lessons about life.
3 shells

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