Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

{Spoiler free. I'm nice like that. :p}

You know, I'm really not that knowledgeable about American classics. I mean, I read Mark Twain and some Little House books, but England has always held my heart literary-wise. Funny, then, that my very first read for The Classics Club is just about as classically American as you can get. 

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne tells the story of Hester Prynne, a young woman found to be guilty of adultery in early Puritan America. Condemned in the small town for such a sin, she is left primarily in solitude, bearing a flamboyantly embroidered 'A' on her chest. Her daughter, Pearl, is her primary source of company. While serving as a symbol of Hester's sin, Pearl is also a great comfort. Through all the bad, something good has still come of it.

Although it's a small cast, Hawthorne definitely gives the reader some complex characters. In addition to the unwavering Hester and demon-esque Pearl, there is the minister Dimmesdale and Hester's husband, who goes under the assumed name of Chillingsworth. 

Even though the book starts out with immediate action, it pretty much slows down from there. At times it was easy to forget what was happening amidst all the descriptions and metaphors. Still, it was a very interesting read. Hawthorne lived in the 1800's, so his telling of events in Puritan America were stereotyped, just as most of ours are today. We don't actually know how a Puritan community would have reacted to such an obvious sin as this. Reading from Hawthorne's perspective gives us a cold, drab view of the Puritans; which should show us where some of our pre-conceived ideas can be traced back to. 

{You guys knew niceness couldn't last for long, right? Read from here down with caution.}

Let's rap on Dimmesdale.

Pretty much from the start, I guessed Hester's partner-in-sin would be the minister. I mean, it was too ironic to pass up. And I'm pleased that it was him, because it made for some interesting twists and turns.

While I won't say I hated Dimmesdale, I definitely feel the least amount of pity for him. At least Chillingsworth has the fact that someone committed adultery with his wife to fall back on...even though that doesn't excuse him from being a generally terrible human being, at least it still gives him a reason. But Dimmesdale? Yup. I'm coming up dry. 

My biggest beef with him is not that he committed adultery with Hester. Mine is that he didn't take responsibility for it. 

"'Never, never!' whispered she, 'What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other! Hast thou forgotten it?'"

If it was actually love on Dimmesdale's side, he should have stepped up and helped her, instead of just letting her raise their child single-handedly. Until the very end, he doesn't even acknowledge to himself or Hester that Pearl is his. She's just some random kid that may or may not look like him enough to blow his cover.

Overall, Dimmesdale's just a bit of a wimp. He could have (literally) saved his own life if he had publicly stood up with Hester instead of allowing his guilt to wither him away. Oh well, it makes for interesting reading, right?

Here's how I wanted it to end: After proclaiming his sin to the townspeople (in order to slightly clear Hester's name) they secretly run off together. Traveling day and night, they get as far away as possible from their small community. Then, leaving Pearl somewhere safe where she will not be found, they get legally married. They keep going until they're even farther away, and then enter that new community as a couple with a lovely, if energetic, child. 

But I suppose that would make for really boring reading and require a new title. Soo, maybe not.

This is my first read from my Classics Club list.  56 to go!

Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? What did you think? 


  1. Nice review. Yep...Dimmesdale's a wimp. Impossible to admire him, hard to pity him. My own review: