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Showing 1-10 of 1,606 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 2,309 reviews
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 February 21, 2016
I won't discuss the book itself, given that this is public domain, meaning anyone who wants to can publish it. This particular copy, however, should not have been published. Granted, I'm reading this for my English Literature class in school, so my issues may not apply to you, but I still feel the need to bring them up. First of all, paragraphs are not indented, making it far too easy to lose your place, or for discussions, it's irritating when someone says "in paragraph 6..." or anything to that effect. There are a few instances where the end of a line is right at the edge of a paragraph and it almost looks like the end of the paragraph, but it could also be that the next word was too long to fit. Another issue is that the chapters don't have numbers on them, so when you've been assigned to read up to chapter 14 or what have you, you'll likely have to go back and count chapters to see which one you're on. Let me reiterate, if you're reading this book for leisure, these gripes may or may not apply to you, but these are so frustrating given my situation that i needed to throw in my two cents on the matter.
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on June 15, 2016
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a classic ... which is the main reason I chose to read it. But, besides being a classic, it is also a very good book, and I enjoyed it immensely, though the ending was disappointing in that it was a little vague as to the fates of some of the characters.

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.

~Kellyn Roth
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on May 3, 2016
I decided to read this classic piece for personal reading since I never read it in high school. Hawthorne does a wonderful job on developing each character and it is interesting to see the dichotomies presented within them. I also recommend paying attention to the symbolic development of the scarlet letter itself. This writing has much to do with the battle of conformity, the idea of sin, the romance itself, and resulting consequences within a Puritan society. I appreciate Alesha N. Gates's review and recommendations, and the particular point to skip reading the introduction until the end.

My little bit about viewing this from a feminist standpoint: I struggle to see this as a feminist work. However, I do see elements of feminism - male hegemony, emasculation and the resilience of the female characters. Still, I was never fully presented with female expectations contrasted against male expectations, i.e. the expectations that would be placed on the male characters in the novel. Therefore, I cannot really say that Hester Prynne and Pearl had true feminist struggles or challenged societies thoughts about who a female should be. Instead, I see it as an upheaval of how society views humanity, whether male or female. Perhaps this work, written over one hundred years ago in 1850, really is a feminist work of literature and I'm just insensitive to a cautious approach towards it. Hester Prynne definitely is one of the most prominent female protagonists of this time and I loved the transformation she underwent to become a free thinker.
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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 November 4, 2016
This is a classic book that I never read but thanks to the Amazon Kindle I have access to all kinds of free reading more material. It really is a book for adults with the theme of adultery solid through it but it never becomes inappropriate. The story is about a woman named Hester who lives in a puritan colony in the early American days. Hester is pregnant through an adulterous affair but refuses t
to tell who the father is. She is sentenced to wear a red letter "A" on her clothes for the rest of her life. The story takes place in the next 7 years and how she is treated, and how the baby's daddy is dealing with the guilt. It is a great story about redemption and sin and conscience with a fairly powerful ending. Because the book is pretty old some of the language gets bogged down. I felt a little bored at exploring the psyche of the main characters, maybe even skipped paragraphs getting to the story. But it's worth the ending.
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on November 7, 2015
From my daughter who read this for school (and actually likes classics):
This book was so slow that it was painful. I appreciate that it was groundbreaking for its time, but that didn't help me when I was forcing myself to sit down to read it. I was so thankful when we moved on to the biography of Frederick Douglass. The actual physical paperback was weirdly large height and width wise, but thin overall. It was hard to keep in my backpack without tearing it up. It just fit in weird with everything else. To top it off, everything was printed sideways, so you had to turn the book to read it. You had to turn pages up and down instead of right and left. I've never really seen a paperback novel printed the way this one was before. Overall, I did not care for the story, and I really did not like the actual book printing itself.
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on September 4, 2012
*Spoiler Alert*

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.
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on October 14, 2013
The Scarlet Letter has it all. Although in today's morality, Hester and Dimmesdale's tryst would barely make anyone blink an eye, Hawthorne deals with responses to immoral choices in a brilliantly insightful manner. The Scarlet Letter rates as a true American classic. I had always ho-hummed it, but upon finally reading it, now that I am teaching it, it is one of the deepest and also funniest books I've ever read. Reading the funny parts together in class -- Dimmesdale on the pillory at night, Hester bored and annoyed as the preacher thunders over her head about the evils of Adultery, Hawthorne truly captures the moments in great words -- has made my students really wake up to what a great book this is, and has begun to give them moral compasses about their own reaction to a sin of this type. It is also evident that Hawthorne is a budding liberal, as he obviously defends Adultery of this nature to the core. A highly interesting book to read in a book club, class, or whatever setting people can discuss it and share it together.
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on April 10, 2014
I just finished re-reading this book for the first time since I was a teen. I did not remember what happened after the grand reveal (no spoilers) and was more touched than I anticipated. In name alone, Hester Prynne is perhaps the most recognizable heroine in American Literature. Of course, she is tragic, but she is also transcendent. Ultimately, Hester rises above the role forced upon her as the town's hussy, infamous sinner, wife of Satan, and queen of the cautionary tale. Hawthorne includes every Puritanical dogma from shaming to divine providence to frame his scene. The theme of good vs. evil will knock you over even if you're not paying attention. The symbolism is heavy-handed and the social commentary sly.

The Scarlet Letter is a masterpiece. It is one of several classic novels that should be on everyone's list of must reads. The language is not at all difficult for a well-read adult. The companion to The Scarlet Letter is The Custom House. It discusses the origins of the story conceding that much of what follows is made up--of course, it's fiction. It's not necessary to read it to appreciate the novel. If you are assigned to read both, then read The Scarlet Letter first. Whereas The Custom House is a dry and dispassionate preamble, The Scarlet Letter is a full-fledged modern romance possessing universal appeal. For further reading check out Hawthorne's equally well-crafted short stories. Two of my favorites are "Young Goodman Brown" and "Rappaccini's Daughter."
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