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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2017
Ah, The Scarlet Letter, the book that sends collective grimaces and angry stares through the classrooms of high schools and colleges alike.

Long before the days of Jerry Springer and the shock factor that was his show, there was Hester Prynne and that whole scaffold scene that opens up The Scarlet Letter. The Puritans were pretty riled up about this whole thing.

I think The Scarlet Letter has been given a bad rap. I mean, I think collectively we tend to gravitate towards the negativity, gossip and scandal rather than looking the other way. And, Hawthorne was criticizing the masses and society of his time, in a way. We have become a society obsessed with negativity and sensationalism. Latest trends, headlines, gossip, media. It gives us the chance to voice and condemn others who have fallen (via an anonymous post through our keyboard or other device) and feel good about ourselves.

Well, Hester Prynne and her adulterous affair (gasp) was that Puritan scandal in Hawthorne’s day. Hawthorne takes a few jabs at the hypocrisies, just as we witness hypocrisies in our own actions today.

In another way, I think The Scarlet Letter eloquently examines the nature of different kinds of sin through three different lens and points of view: Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingsworth. Each of these characters has a chance to “redeem” or change the sin that plagues them, either internally or externally, and is given that freedom, whether they choose do make amends or remain stagnant. Redemption is possible, if one so chooses.

I get it, though. To call Hawthorne’s prose complicated and difficult to wade through is a gross and negligent understatement. It’s a bit of a challenge and you will have to spend some time slowing your reading down to get through some of the rather difficult prose.

Yet, when you get past the diction and writing style, there is actually a pretty good story in here. Hawthorne loved him some symbolism, too, and we can see this through the various key scenes and places, most notably the scaffold where Hester is publicly shamed.

I think that The Scarlet Letter is one of those novels where the sum is definitely bigger than its parts.
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on February 14, 2013
I tend to get scared when reading classic literature. I fear I will not understand the language, what makes the characters, and the subtle undertones that make these books so immortal.
The Dover Thrift Study Edition makes everything so easy to understand while still giving the reader a chance to find their own way through the text.
The book itself is in the front, but the back holds character descriptions as they come in, chapter (or chapters) summaries and then an analysis of what has happened and what it means in the bigger picture.
Whenever I must read a classic my go to is to see if they have it in a Dover Thrift Study Edition. It makes my life so much easier and I also get so much more out of the book than if I had just read it alone.
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on October 11, 2017
I actually bought two Scarlet Letters--one in this paperback edition for my wife to read; the second on Kindle, which I read. The Scarlet Letter is one of those books that you read in high school (as I did back in high school in 57 to 61). Then you tend to forget how good it was. The book was actually a national best seller--in 1851.

It remains an interesting story about the choices that people make--including silence---and the consequences of those choices. I bought the book(s) because our book club wanted to read a "classic" and this novel definitely is one. It's not terribly long and is well worth the reader's time.
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Nathanial Hawthorne is a quintessential American writer. His life spanned most of the first half of the 19th Century. His works are a vital part of the foundations of American literature. His ancestors first came to America from England in the early 17th century, and settled in Salem, Massachusetts, when it was the "Bay Colony." Over two centuries later, his descendants are in the same place. Hawthorne notes this point in his novel, specifically: "This long connection of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human being and the locality, quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him. It is not love but instinct. The new inhabitant-who came himself from a foreign land, or whose father or grandfather came-has little claim to be called a Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster-like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom his third century is creeping, clings to the spot where his successive generations have been embedded."

The connection of people with a particular patch of earth, even memorably expressed ("oyster-like tenacity") is a relatively minor theme in this work. The dominant ones are "sin," to use a word becoming increasingly obsolete, and which can designate actions and behavior outside of societal norms; guilt; and revenge. There is precious little love in this stern Puritanical society which helped establish America. There are still threads of current societal "norms" that can be traced back to these early beginnings of the United States.

The novel opens in the Custom House in the port of Salem, now well past its prime, sometime in the early 19th Century. Hawthorne for a time was a customer inspector so he was able to draw from that experience to depict the colorful characters who collected their paychecks there, mainly former Sea Captains. A book of old documents was found, and that was the entrée to the story which occurred two centuries earlier. The scene opens with Hester Prynne in prison, for a "sin" that had been committed at least 10 months earlier. She is married, but her husband was not in the Colony at the time, yet she became pregnant, and now carried the child in her arms as she is led to the pillory for public shaming. She has been sentenced to wear a large crimson "A" on her chest for the rest of her life. "It takes two to tango," but Prynne resolutely refuses to name who the father is. Hawthorne deftly handles the plot, gradually hinting and at last revealing who the father is. Meanwhile, Prynne's cuckold husband returns to the Colony, incognito, and obsessively plots revenge upon the father. Meanwhile, over the course of the next seven years, Prynne's daughter develops into a feisty and elfin child, precociously asking questions about the relationships between the key characters. And Prynne herself, even though branded as an outcast from society, through her skills as a seamstress, and her good deeds, at least wins a grudging acceptance from virtually all the citizens of the Colony.

"Feminism" can be an emotionally charged word, covering a wide range of complaints and grievances. Mary Wollstonecraft is considered an early pioneer in addressing the injustices done to women. It would be appropriate to present a man, namely Nathaniel Hawthorne, with an "honorable mention" in noting these injustices. As so often happens, even today, when the prostitutes are jailed, and the "John's" are not, society punished Hester Prynne, and the father "only" experienced his (significant) guilt as the partner in the tango. As Hawthorne expresses it through one of his characters: "It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known!" Hawthorne has Prynne ruminate on the injustice she has faced, and conclude: "Then the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position."

Hawthorne himself carried some emotional "guilt" baggage, assuming, like Original Sin, it can be inherited. His ancestor who came from England went on to become a harsh "burning" judge in the Colony - "burning" as in women, who were labeled "witches." And he was the only judge who never repented for his actions. It was one reason Hawthorne added a "w" to his name to distinguish himself from his ancestor. As Voltaire famously quipped: "It is remarkable how few witches there are nowadays since we stopped burning them." That might easily apply to "enemies" in general.

I first read this novel back at the beginning of time, as a high school reading assignment. Believe I got the answers to the test OK, but most of the rest of it was over my head. The second time around I was impressed with how well-written it is, maintaining dramatic suspense, while addressing fundamental problems of the human condition. 5-stars, plus
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on May 23, 2017
Of course, this is a classic piece of American literature. I had seen a dramatization of it on TV some years ago but until recently had not gotten around to reading it. The book is structured differently from the drama. Modern readers may find the sentences tryingly long and the sentiments unimaginable. However, clearly Hawthorne was a genius for he packs two or three reflections into every sentence and winds them about the characters flawlessly. If one can set aside modern concepts of behavior and Hemingway model sentence structure it is a rewarding read. The book deals intimately with internal conflicts in the characters rather than actions, which principally serve only to divulge thoughts and feelings.
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on April 18, 2014
The Scarlet Letter was a re-read for members of our bookclub - as our Classic for April. While only twelve members read and attended this month, it was a unanimous 5 stars for this classic novel that will forever be recognized as GREAT.
Besides Nathaniel Hawthorne's envious symbolism ability, this is a work filled with all imaginable scandal cleverly written in old English. When we debated what tagline to use, the above barely beat "Heartbreaking and so lovely you will never forget it!"

If you haven't read it, please do. The language is rough to comprehend in the beginning, but soon it wraps around you and you feel rewarded to the bone for having completed this masterpiece.
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on December 27, 2014
A masterpiece of 19th century American literature, and a glimpse into the lives of the early Puritans (Boston, 1660s).
The prologue, leading to the tale of the discovery of the story (the Scarlet Letter is presented as a story-within-a-story) is long and leaves the reader impatient. Since it pertains to a different location and time from the main story, it is not quite clear how it enhances the tale.
The depictions of human feelings are exquisitely detailed, which is fairly remarkable because they are almost invariably gloomy feelings of guilt and shame. The pace, very slow at first, picks up towards the dramatic denouement, followed by a rather unsatisfactory conclusion. One wishes that the author would have thumbed his nose at the Puritans and allowed Hester Prynne a happy life ever after, but Hawthorne does not violate the moral conventions of the age and the conclusion would therefore have satisfied the most moralistic readers. No happy ending here, except for the one innocent character, so everyone who sinned paid the price, amen.
Seen in the light of the moral tradition in which the novel is set, and the barely less strict society in which it was written, the quality of the writing serves the purpose of moral edification beautifully. The long sentence, with their complex embedded clauses and dated vocabulary, is sometimes hard to follow, but always limpid once parsed. In that sense it is reminiscent of another moral tale of the age, Melville's Moby Dick, minus the see and with a different capital sin involved.
Overall, this is one of the canons of literature that should be part of the weel-educated reader's collection.
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on April 11, 2018
This is not what I think of as an annotated edition. It is extremely simplistic, the "lesson plans" are short and there are not very many. I have been teaching Scarlet Letter for years and my lesson plans are much better than this edition. Even the type face is poor - it looks like someone printed it out on an old dot matrix printer and bound it. I bought this to help a young teacher with her first attempt at teaching the book, but even she thought it was too simplistic. Maybe if you had NO exposure to Hawthorne or the story, some of the brief comments might help guide your understanding, but for me, this was a waste of money.
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on December 10, 2017
The Scarlet Letter
: Nathaniel Hawthorne

It was time to revisit this classic. There is so many emotions touched as the tale progresses.

The narration was well done after I switched to my Kïndle Fire and sped up the reading speed to 1.5, otherwise it felt like it dragged. Jae Huff has a pleasant voice.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
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on February 18, 2017
I wonder that any average 9th grader today could plough through the verbiage of this book to get to the meat of the story. It is a classic, but pales in comparison to any of Dickens or Austen, Hawthorne's near contemporaries. The lives of Puritans in Olde Boston are endlessly fascinating. This point and interesting characters keep the story afloat.
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