The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is probably his best known work. Hester Prynne is the wearer of the scarlet A, ornately sewn by her own hand. The letter is punishment for the crime of adultery in Massachusetts during Colonial times. Hester's husband has been missing and presumed dead but she's born a child by another man. She refuses to name the man responsible and carries the burden of their sin on herself.
For years, Hester is shunned by the community, although they seek her out for her work as a seamstress. She lives alone on the edge of the village with her strange child, Pearl. She meekly endures the stares and jeers of the villagers until she becomes something of legend. A ghost who walks among them.
In the meantime, she shares the secrets of two men. One slowly killing himself with guilt, the other bent on revenge.
Hester is such an interesting character. Hester's treatment is unfair and she knows it yet she puts up with it. In her own way, she punishes the villagers by not hiding her shame. She wears the letter openly, refusing to hide it. She's almost shoving it in their faces. I think it reminds them of their own sins.
Hawthorne writes in third person and in such a way that he seems almost speculating on what's happening. I only started to understand Hester when she speaks to another character and she reveals her true feelings. Until then I was only guessing what she felt. It's quite brilliant.
Although I recommend reading The Scarlet Letter, do yourself a favour and skip the introduction "The Custom House". Tor-ture. It's mostly the ramblings of Hawthorne's politics. The only thing important was his claim to have found the "A" and some documents while working at the custom house.