Tuesday, September 1, 2009

review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

book 5 of 5 for the Classics Challenge

Oh Hester, bless your sinful heart. Who is unfamiliar with the sin of Hester and the glaring red "A" emblazoned on her bosom? Who hasn't ached for her humiliation and irked at that Puritan rigidness that led to her infamous life of regret and needlepoint, alone with her wild daughter Pearl?

What a novel of emotions! I kept thinking to myself - each of these four main characters (Hester, the priest Arthur Dimmsdale, the doctor Roger Chillingworth and that flighty Pearl), they are all just a gigantic mass of emotions. Foremost: SHAME! What can shame, guilt and regret do to us, whether the world around us knows of our shame or not? How can we work through that inner turmoil? If we don't work through it, what do we turn into? What kind of person can we be if we DO work through it? Also: FORGIVENESS. How can a lack of forgiveness change us? Who can give forgiveness to us and how do we get it? What does it feel like once we've gotten it? PRIDE: wow, how much trouble can THAT cause?

It takes a while to get into this one, I'm not going to lie. But honestly, feel free to just SKIP the entire introduction because it is completely unnecessary. While it does give us some background into our narrator, we can still enjoy the story without it. Speaking of our narrator, I really liked the third person narration - we got into the minds and hearts of both Hester and Mr. Dimmsdale, along with a beautiful retelling of their tale. Sentences like, "At that distance they accordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired." Woah. Beautiful, but not really light reading.

My last thought is this: as much as this is a tale about Hester, it is absolutely as much a tale about our priest. Hester and Arthur are like two sides of the same coin and you can't really understand the one without having pity for the other. And that Pearl - a more obvious literary symbol has possibly never been written. But I like her for that - between her, the nefarious scaffold and Dr. CHILLINGWORTH'S very appropriate name, Hawthorne did a fine job of creating a book that could be discussed in literature classrooms until the end of time. If you can make it through Nathaniel Hawthorne's lovely wordiness, you can find so much about what makes us human in this book.

5 comments:

Karlyn said...

I have loved this book for nearly as long as I can remember. I was in Jr. High when I read it the first time, and my teacher got mad at my mom for letting me read it!!!!

LOVE this book.

Tricia said...

I've never read this but I hope to some day. It's on my shelf, but it just doesn't call my name that often!

Tiffany said...

I agree that this book was a heavy read, but definitely worth the time. It certainly causes a lot of introspection about those values you mentioned.

Melissa said...

Lovely wordiness? I don't know if I'd go that far... still, you're spot on: it's a wonderful, dense, thoughtful book that sparks some GREAT book group discussion. I'm almost regretting not wading through it this time.

Anna said...

It's been ages since I read this book. I think it would be interesting to pick it up again and see how I feel about it as an adult. Great review!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

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