January 27, 2008

The Scarlet Letter: A Review

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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.

4/5

20 comments :

  1. It has been many many many years since I read The Scarlet Letter. Your review was a good memory refresher. :-) I am glad you liked it, Chris. Great review!

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  2. Yay! I'm so glad you liked this one. I really need to re-read it now. Hester is a GREAT character.

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  3. I read this in high school. I remember I started out "hating" it, but eventually I ended up liking it a lot, I just didn't admit that to my friends because I didn't want to sound like a nerd. I loved the vocabulary, it was something we studied in the class. I also remember being a little freaked out about Pearl's unusual behavior. I'm glad you liked it, too!

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  4. Now do yourself a favour and rent the Demi Moore version. Oh wait, did I say rent? I meant destroy.

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  5. Lit Feline- Thanks!

    Andi- There is so much to Hester. She really is a great character.

    Andrea- Pearl was a weird kid, but she had a pretty miserable life.

    John- Yeah, I can't see Demi Moore as Hester.

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  6. For some reason, I didn't get assigned this book in school, but got The Blithedale Romance once and The House Of Seven Gables twice. About the same time (uh...late seventies, early eighties) there was an excellent miniseries on PBS starring Meg Foster as Hester. I think John Heard was Dimmesdale and Kevin Conway (?) was Chillingworth.
    Thanks for the advice regarding skipping the custom house prologue.

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  7. I think I tried to read this once but never made it through.

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  8. Well, this was another one that high school ruined for me. But, I've been wanting to read more Hawthorne lately. I've never read the House of the Seven Gables. It's good to know you liked Scarlet Letter, though. I should re-read it someday with my adult perspective.

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  9. Ooh I really liked this book, even though I read it in high school. It took me years to really appreciate it though.

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  10. I can't even blame high school on my boresom of this one. I got it before the movie came out to read it first, of course, but it was soo boring. I picked up The Scarlet Pimpernell by mistake first, so The Letter paled by comparison.

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  11. I hope to get around to this at some point, it's been on my list of books to read for ages now! I really glad you enjoyed it.

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  12. Ditto on skipping Custom House. I really liked your review -- gives enough info without giving too much away! To be honest I didn't get really into this book until that part where Hester reveals herself, but ended up really appreciating it.

    Demi Moore? Just can't buy her as Hester. The PBS version might be promising...

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  13. great review. I've never read this but I'll add it to my TBR Mountain for sure now.

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  14. Awesome review Christina! I read this book in High school and then a number of years latter. This is one of my favorite classics.

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  15. This is one book which is as socially relevant today as it was then. I loved reading it. Great review.

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  16. I've got The Scarlet Letter on my TBR Challenge pile, so I'll be remembering that advice!

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  17. terrible book. had to read it for school

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  18. I am reading this book right now for English III. Man.. I just can't get into this book.. I have no idea how I'm going to read all 228 pages of it before school starts.. *sigh*

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  19. I agree with most of what you say about the book. I agree that hester is treated very badly and didn't deserve it, and its especially unfair that she had to deal with all the public shame and humiliation because Dimmesdale didn't even have to face that. I found it very interesting and brave of her to wear the "A" on her chest very openly, because she didn't want the "A" to define who she is.

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  20. Oh, thank God you suggested skipping the first chapter! I've got TSL on my e-reader and got nearly halfway through The Custom House and have hated every pointless run-on sentence. I said "screw it, I am NOT going to put myself through it" and decided not to read the book. Now I'm re-thinking that decision.

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