The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”

I didn’t remember much about my first time reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter years ago. I recalled a bit of dense writing, a picturesque Salem setting, and the piercing image of Hester standing on the scaffold, emblazoned with an embroidered “A.” I began this reread not knowing whether I would love the story or loathe it.

And yet, while reading this time around I was struck by the poignancy and cleverness of the novel. Somehow I’d forgotten how the main story is framed so smartly as some town lore, how brutal the agony of the guilty figure feels, and how methodically hidden meanings are gradually revealed. Culminating in a backdrop of mossy woods, nighttime witchery, and eerie symbolism, this striking novel was the perfect book to kick off my October reading.

In my lukewarm memory, this novel was mostly about Pearl, Hester’s daughter. However, Pearl is less of a character and more of a physical embodiment of the scarlet letter, a living and breathing reminder of Hester’s wrong-doing in the eyes of the town. She’s mischievous and often cruel, but again and again we’re brought back to the fact that she’s still just a child.

This novel presents such an interesting discussion of guilt and shame. We watch as a key figure is eaten away my hidden guilt–slowly, slowly, but surely enough. Over time we see Hester’s “A” change in meaning and even become valued by the townspeople. Yet the guilt that lies unseen in the heart of a certain character only worsens over time. Hawthorne’s message is clear: better to live the truth openly, whatever the consequences, than to be rotted away by undisclosed shame.

Hawthorne’s writing is dense at times, particularly in the beginning as he construct’s the main story’s outer framework. Once you get past that gnarled opening section, Hester’s plight pulls you in and keeps you engaged. Haunting, emotional, striking–The Scarlet Letter is an excellent autumnal read.

Thoughts on The Scarlet Letter or any of Hawthorne’s other works? I’d love to hear them.

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9 responses to “The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne”

  1. I need to reread this too, it’s been a while. In high school I just found it dense and befuddling. Later on I could appreciate Hawthorne’s artistry. Now I think I’d have more understanding for the moral complexities of the tale.

    I’ve read a number of Hawthorne’s stories and found them similarly haunting. I enjoyed visiting the real “house of the seven gables” in Salem just before I left New England! Worth a trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve always wanted to visit the house of the seven gables! So cool that you were able to go!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I reread The Scarlet Letter this year and I really enjoyed it. I’m hoping to read The House of the Seven Gables this month. I hope I enjoy it just as much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you enjoyed The Scarlet Letter! I really want to read The House of Seven Gables as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m very impressed that you’ve made me want to re-read The Scarlet Letter. I didn’t dislike it the first time, but dense writing is a struggle for me. Still… I want to feel these things you describe similarly, because it sounds like a very satisfying journey. Also I remember making a really great playlist about the book for a school project ages ago, and how satisfied I was with it fitting perfectly

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh I feel like this book would go so well with an eerie playlist! Hope you enjoy this one if you do end up rereading it!

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  4. […] @ Nut Free Nerd review of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne made me want to finally pick up my copy and give this book a […]

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  5. […] The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne by Holly @ Nut Free Nerd (made me want to read it again!) […]

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