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The Scarlet Letter Paperback – May 7, 2015
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Simply put: do not buy this edition of the book. Setting aside the totally unaesthetic cover art, which quite frankly looks like a compressed google image superimposed upon a black background, and lack of a synopsis or any key information on the back cover, the pages themselves are difficult to read as there are no clear paragraph indentations or chapter breaks thus making scansion difficult. Likewise, I have noticed editing errors as well. Stick with Penguin or any of the other staple publishers other than this disgraceful Millenium publication.
The book starts off with Hester Prynne, the main character, being led up on the scaffold for the public to gawk at. She has been charged with adultery, which is obviously true because she has a baby and her husband hasn't been around in ages. However, she refuses to give up the name of her fellow adulterer. To her dress is pinned a scarlet letter, and she is released, but she'll spend the rest of her life being shunned and stared at.
The real beauty of The Scarlet Letter is the rich language never found in contemporary works. It gives you a real mental workout, and it's absolutely beautiful.
The characters are well-developed and interesting. The story is also interesting, though very sad. It shows the strictness of Puritan beliefs in the 1600s, it shows the difference between a person bearing shame and a person bearing secret guilt, it shows the price of sin and the gift of forgiveness. The Scarlet Letter is a true masterpiece.
I really enjoyed this book. At age 41, I decided it was about time I read "the book" I somehow avoided reading in high school. It is interesting to find that it represented something entirely different from what I believed. This is not a social commentary on single parenthood or adultery. Rather, it is a comparison of choices and their effects.
Regardless of who we are, each of us has something we believe in. We don't have to share the values of others to see how their beliefs drive the consequences of their choices. We can learn from them, even if we don't agree with them.
This story contrasts the choices made by the three main characters: Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmsdale, and Roger Chillingworth. Each sin against his/her own puritanical beliefs then make choices that profoundly affect their lives.
Hester has an adulterous affair with another man. With the birth of her child and an absentee husband, her sin is laid bare for everyone to see. As punishment, a scarlet "A" is fashioned that she is always to wear upon the breast of her gown. This letter was to represent the stigma of her crime and compel others to treat her as an outcast. Hester lives her life and never stops trying to atone for her sins. In fact, near the end of the book we find that others have started to look upon the "A" with another meaning, "able." She tended the sick, gave assistance to the poor, and offered comfort and relief to souls on their death bed. The "A" became as Mr. Hawthorne said, "the symbol of her calling." (p183) Once rejected and ridiculed, she was now a respected member of her society. Hester, openly, took responsibility for her actions and never again sinned against her beliefs. She found true healing to her soul through service and compassion of her fellowmen.
Reverend Arthur Dimmsdale, Hester's pastor, is compelled to pass judgment on her soul. In addition, he is called upon to persuade Hester to give up the name of her fellow-sinner. From his words to her, it is obvious that he is the guilty party. His words, coming from the depths of his soul, confess his part in her sin. He, in effect, is begging her to help him out of his cowardice to stand, once again, in the light. He says, "Take heed how thou deniest to him--who, perchance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself--the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to thy lips!" (p77) After Hester refuses to speak his name, he makes the decision to secretly retain his guilt and gives his soul over to darkness. In the seven years that Hester transforms into a respected member of society, Arthur's guilt causes him to physically become very fragile and weak. In the end, though he finally frees himself from the burden and reveals his secret, he dies. He throws away everything he believes in, and preaches about, to dishonesty, cowardice and fear.
Roger Chillingworth, the absentee husband of Hester, shows up the very day she is publically shamed in front of the community. She sees him, while she stands publicly humiliated on the scaffold. Mr. Chillingworth is an old man and admits to Hester that marrying her was wrong. He does not condemn her for her transgression saying, "Between thee and me, the scale hangs fairly balanced. But Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?" (p85) When she refuses to tell who he is, Roger promises her that he will find out. In addition, he demands that she tell no one of his true identity as her husband. She agrees. Thus, Roger sets in motion his plan of revenge. He recognizes that the pastor is gravely ill and moves in with him. As he investigates he is certain that Reverend Dimmsdale's illness is connected to Hester. He learns the truth one day when the pastor is sleeping. He discovers the "A" burned onto his chest. With satisfaction, he turns his plans for revenge directly on the pastor. As he comes to his greatest moment of triumph, he is robbed of it when the pastor confesses publicly his sin. Kneeling on the scaffolding, with the Reverend close to death he says, "Thou hast escaped me!" For seven years Roger's life has been consumed with revenge; after being robbed of it, he dies within the year. Hatred and revenge steal the life he could have known.
The purpose of Hawthorne's text is to show that we become a product of our choices--choices governed by our own beliefs. No matter what those beliefs, if we violate their laws, the consequences will be profound. Our strength of character will shine through as we respond to the consequences of our actions. Through those responses we have the potential of gaining or losing many things, including: our self-respect, our reputations, our souls, and even our lives. In short, how we respond to unfavorable consequences will make us stronger or eventually destroy us.
Top international reviews
Like most novels written in the 19th century, this is largely a morality tale, and the story itself will not tax most readers (although the ‘olde Englishe’ writing style may not appeal to everyone). Unusually though, I did not feel that the author made any judgement about the woman in this story, he just tells the tale and leaves it to the reader to make up their own mind. The plot is very easy to follow; a young woman, Hester Prynne, whose husband is absent, has conceived a child and refuses to name the father. The Puritan community in which she lives could have sentenced her to death for her adultery but instead her sentence is to stand at the scaffold for 3 hours with her infant so that the whole town may witness her shame and then henceforth she must always wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ as a mark of her sin. I guessed the identity of the child’s father while she was still standing on the scaffold and when a stranger appeared among the crowd come to witness Hester’s humiliation, I knew immediately who he was too. There are no surprises here, no twists or turns and the usual compliment of good-guys, bad-guys, big-wigs and snobs are all present. The bulk of the story details Hester’s life as she tries to raise her child on the edge of society, which given the attitudes of the time is something of a challenge for all concerned. All through the chapters, the author hints at the identity of her fellow sinner with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer, which is a bit annoying but somehow this does not spoil the book at all. The religious beliefs of the characters in the story are difficult to understand from a modern view-point but this did not detract from this gentle tale; in fact trying to understand this element of the story just made it all the more interesting to read.
Written in the mid-19th century, but set 200 years earlier, the thing that most delighted me about this novel is the 17th century language in which it is told. Also, the prose is beautifully written and evokes a vivid picture of life in New England in the mid 17th century.
The story is about Hester Prynne, a woman who is forced to make and wear a scarlet 'A' after she conceives and births a child out of wedlock and refuses to name the father. There are some salient points about organised religion (in this case Puritan legalism) and how Hester is hypocritically condemned by many people in the village. Hester is likeable. However I found one character to be very strange - Roger Chillingworth - his character seems to change a bit, though maybe this was just my understanding of it! And the child Pearl is also an odd one, but this is more obviously a literary device as Hawthorne uses her to symbolise Hester's sin.
The writing is at times quite difficult to get into because of the time in which this book was written, and this isn't the most gripping book I've ever read, but it's worth a read.
It just seemed to go on endlessly about seemingly trivial matters. I couldn't sink my teeth into the story, and really didn't feel it progressing in an interesting or meaningful way.