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The Nature of Sin and Redemption
on 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.