The Compulsive Reader: Classics Corner: The Scarlet Letter

Friday, August 28, 2009

Classics Corner: The Scarlet Letter

Now, I love a good YA read, but let's be honest: it's always good to pick up a classic every now and again. As a snarky girl I used to sit next to every day in class put it, "Read a book written by a dead white guy every now again, why don't you?" Setting aside all other feelings associated with this particular person and the very racist and sexist opinions, it is good to read book that your Lit teacher would want you to read (and let's be frank, most of them ARE written by dead white guys).

So, in order to encourage you to pick up one of those more eloquoent (a euphemism for wordy) books (or to simply entertain you), I will share with you my adventures (misadventures?) with some of my required reading. I'll try to be as honest as possible. Please don't judge me if I sound too naive and stupid. Which, I am. A lot of the times.

So, first up: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It's pretty safe to assume that we've ALL had to read this book at one point of another, right? We all know the basic gist of the story: Hester Prynne gets caught commiting adultery in 1640's Puritan and completely uptight Boston and her punishment, instead of death, is wearing a red 'A' on her chest for the rest of her life.

  1. Nathanial Hawthorne is overly fond of the 'ignominous' and all of its forms. Like, seriously. The guy cannot go an 8 page chapter without using it at least 5 times.
  2. Everything is implied. These people back then sure knew their sins, but no one ever spoke of them. So, I'm sitting here reading, wanting to know things like, "HOW was Hester caught? What did they say when they accused her? And how on earth in a society where everyone is too afraid to leave each other alone in case the devil or some witch claimed them for the dark side did Hester and her mystery man hook up?" But to explain these details would be uncouth.
  3. Apparently, children in the 1640's used the word 'verily'. Yeah, okay.

Okay, so I was really dense and totally missed the part where because Dimmesdale spoke to Hester in the beginning, CLEARLY he must be Pearl's father. CLEARLY! (??) So, basically, I spent the majority of the book trying to figure out how Chillingworth (Hester's betrayed and totally furious and deranged husband) would exact his revenge on Hester by torturing Dimmesdale (who had issues of his own). So here I am, niave, terribly confused, and rather impatient, working my way through, trying to figure out what the heck is going on, until about, oh, chapter SEVENTEEN! Then it all clicked and made perfect sense! The issues, the revenge, the guilt. Perfect. Sense.

From then on out, it was a really interesting book! There were a couple of twists, and I honestly wasn't quite sure how Hawthorne would end the book. It was a pretty decent ending though, I was satisfied. I gather that to a more astute reader, The Scarlet Letter would have been so much more interesting as everything was playing out. In fact, my sudden revelation almost made me want to go back and read chapters 2-16 again with new eyes. Almost.

I suppose overall though, what I felt the most at the end of the novel was sadness. I was sad that Hester and Dimmesdale and Pearl and really, the whole community lived their lives in such a way where one mistake had such a profoundly negative impact on their lives. To me, one of the major, major aspects of religion has always been forgiveness. God sent Jesus to die on the cross to forgive of us of all of our sins, and therefore we should forgive others of theirs as well. But that community seemed to know nothing about that, and instead made it their business to worm their way into others' personal lives and expose their every fault. While I in no way condone adultery, I find it so sad that no one in that book was willing to forgive anyone else...or themselves. It's only at the very end of the book, when Dimmesdale and Hester are buried near each other that you get the idea that perhaps the community did forgive them for their adultery.

Anyways, that's just one of the many themes found in The Scarlet Letter, but it's the one that stuck out most to me. So go read the book if you want to find out more, I'm not doing your homework for you!


Anonymous said...

heehee I have wanted t read this for quite a while. Perhaps i'll do it for a bit of homework ;)

Blaize said...

I enjoyed your post--and I too struggled with this book a little bit. Have you ever seen the movie they made of this book with Demi Moore and Gary Oldham? Now that was really a sin!

Ashley said...
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Melanie said...

I read this book a couple years ago, and I enjoyed it, for the most part. I didn't really like the ending, though. I envisioned something totally different.

Okie said...

I read (and enjoyed) this in High School and read it again about a year ago with new insights, but still found it enjoyable.

Great review.

Hillary said...

I had to read this for English class this year. I read it all in one day.

I really liked it. It wasn't hard to read or really boring (for me). All the other kids in my class hated it though! :) I guess I'm just weird.

Shalonda said...

I LOVE The Scarlet Letter. I had to read it in high school and found it dreadful. After reading it for a college class, I appreciated all it had to offer. It's about time I read it again!

Sarah said...

This is one of the books we'll read in my American Lit class this semester. Great review! I can't wait to read it!

BookChic said...

I read this book during high school and actually really enjoyed it, even though every character except Hester pissed me off, lol. I am not kidding you, I was so angry throughout the entire book with everyone. But I did like the story. Does that make sense?

Alyssa F said...

First of all, I should say that I did hate this book when I read it in high school. But I do have great respect for what Hawthorne did with it.

And I agree with you about the religious aspect. But the english major in me keeps thinking about how Hawthorne was trying to point out the flaws of puritannical society, and that's why she made the village the way it was. But then again, maybe that's just me.