Ah, The Scarlet Letter. This is one of those classics that I was somehow never assigned to read in high school, which is why I’m just getting around to reading it now. I had a vague idea of what this story was about prior to reading it– something to do with adultery, scandal, etc.– but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to uncover the actual contents of this classic American novel.
As soon as I began reading The Scarlet Letter I was immediately struck by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s flowery, languid writing style. Many people seem to criticize his writing for using far too many words when nearly half the number would suffice, but I think his style is beautiful. Did it take me some time to get used to reading? Yes. However, I wouldn’t say it detracted from the story in any way. I found myself captivated by the writing as much as the story it was expressing. Upon reading statements such as this:
“The people knew not the power that moved them thus.”
I would actually stop, reread it multiple times, and perhaps even write it down for future reference, as is the case with the above sentence. When the writing is moving in itself, I think it’s safe to say that it adds rather than takes away from the overall work.
Based on my vague theories of this novel’s premise, I expected the story to solely focus on Hester and her supposedly scandalous actions; however, I was pleased to discover that The Scarlet Letter encompasses a wide variety of topics. Religion plays an enormous role in this story, specifically regarding corruption in the Church and how religious figures are viewed in society. It actually reminded me of Carlos Carrera’s film The Crime of Father Amaro, which I’ve watched several times in my Spanish classes over the years. It addresses a similar question of what constitutes a “sin” from the view of the Church, priests, and worshippers in general. I think it’s fascinating that these themes are present currently and have been discussed in cultures around the globe at different points in history. Hawthorne surely had an impressive amount of courage to publish such a controversial novel at a time when the Church was basically viewed as a form of government.
I love how rich this novel is with symbolism. There’s the “A” Hester must wear upon her chest as an outward sign of her sin; Pearl, the physical embodiment of the scarlet letter; the forest, a liminal space beyond the social norms of society; the scaffold, a place where sins are both committed and condemned, etc. I’m itching to do additional research and reading about this novel to learn even more about elements I may have missed, because I’m sure there are plenty. Despite the deceiving simplicity of this story, The Scarlet Letter is actually a complex, multidimensional tale.
The plot of the story itself is where the majority of my complaints lie. Although I appreciated the plot twists sprinkled here and there (at least, I didn’t see them coming!), I was disappointed by the abrupt, rather unsatisfying ending. How did the general public react to the minister’s declaration? What did Roger feel in particular? It doesn’t feel as though we are provided enough details, especially considering the meticulous thoroughness of the rest of the novel. The events of the conclusion were fine– I simply have a problem with the rushed way it was written.
Overall, The Scarlet Letter will surely be added to my list of favorite American classics. It is an immensely enjoyable read and one that I know I will revisit again and again in years to come.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!!
What are your thoughts about The Scarlet Letter? What other works by Nathaniel Hawthorne would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!