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The Scarlet Letter

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Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and will not reveal her lover’s identity. The scarlet letter A (for adultery) she has to wear on her clothes, along with her public shaming, is her punishment for her sin and her secrecy. She struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the book, Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.

279 pages, Paperback

First published March 16, 1850

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About the author

Nathaniel Hawthorne

3,449 books2,880 followers
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a 19th century American novelist and short story writer. He is seen as a key figure in the development of American literature for his tales of the nation's colonial history.

Shortly after graduating from Bowdoin College, Hathorne changed his name to Hawthorne. Hawthorne anonymously published his first work, a novel titled Fanshawe, in 1828. In 1837, he published Twice-Told Tales and became engaged to painter and illustrator Sophia Peabody the next year. He worked at a Custom House and joined a Transcendentalist Utopian community, before marrying Peabody in 1842. The couple moved to The Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, later moving to Salem, the Berkshires, then to The Wayside in Concord. The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850, followed by a succession of other novels. A political appointment took Hawthorne and family to Europe before returning to The Wayside in 1860. Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, leaving behind his wife and their three children.

Much of Hawthorne's writing centers around New England and many feature moral allegories with a Puritan inspiration. His work is considered part of the Romantic movement and includes novels, short stories, and a biography of his friend, the United States President Franklin Pierce.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 18,622 reviews
Profile Image for Sarah.
534 reviews
July 22, 2016
Hester walked across the room. She stepped upon her left foot, her right foot, and then her left foot again. One wonders, why doth she, in this instance of walking across the room, begin her journey upon the left foot and not the right? Could it be her terrible sin, that the devil informeth the left foot just as he informeth the left hand and those bewitched, left-handed persons amongst us? Why, forsooth, doth the left foot of sin draggeth the innocent right foot along its wretched journey from one side of the room to the other? She walked across the room, I tell you! Guilty feet hath got no rhythm...
Profile Image for Heather Lei.
139 reviews4 followers
June 30, 2008
The story, not bad. The style, unreadable.

Here is who I would recommend this book to - people who like sentences with 4 or 5 thoughts, and that are paragraph length - so that they are nearly impossible to understand - because by the time the end, of the sentence, has been reached the beginning, and whatever meaning it contained, has been forgotten and the point is lost.
21 reviews10 followers
October 17, 2007
I found my old high school review of this book. Here's a little bit of my assessment. Apologiese in advance:

If there is a hell, Hawthorne is the devil's sidekick, and the first thing you're given (after the stark realization that you're in hell, on fire, and this is going to last forever) is this book. And you have to do a 10 page paper praising the wondrous virtues of this massive waste of time. And after you've finished writing (in your own blood, mind you) your stupid paper, you are given another essay topic dealing with this same insipid book. Congratulations, this is what you'll be doing for eternity.

Haha, I really DID NOT LIKE this book in HS, and it's part of the reason why I have always been apprehensive about US literature--especially the classics.

Now I'm a TEACHER and I'm going to revisit this monolith of high school trauma and I'll go into it with as much of an open mind as possible. I did the same thing with Old Man and the Sea (I remember loathing that book when I read it my freshmen year) and the second time around I LIKED IT!

I did not like either book because my teachers did not do a good job of selling it to me. There was little to no background, no setup, no explanation as to why we should read this--other than "ED Hirsch said you have to, so go read it."

Teaching 101: never have your students read a book that you yourself do not enjoy. I think my teachers disliked both books, and it rubbed off on their students.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.5k followers
August 16, 2021
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter: A Romance, an 1850 novel, is a work of historical fiction, written by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is considered his "masterwork".

Set in 17th-century Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the book, Hawthorne explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «داغ ننگ»؛ «حرفی به رنگ عشق»؛ «زنی با نشان قرمز»؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز ششم ماه آگوست سال 1976میلادی

عنوان: داغ ننگ؛ اثر: ناثانیل هاثورن؛ مترجم: سیمین دانشور؛ مشخصات نشر تهران، نیل، 1334، در 240ص، چاپ دوم فرانکلین 1346، در224ص، سوم 1357؛ چاپ چهارم، نشر خوارزمی؛ 1369؛ در 252ص؛ چاپ پنجم 1385؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 19م

مترجم: مرضیه مهردوست؛ تهران، پیام پویا؛ 1387؛ در 56ص؛

مترجم: محمدصادق شریعتی؛ در 86 ص؛ تهران، گویش نو؛ 1387؛ با عنوان: زنی با نشان قرمز؛ در 127ص؛ روشنگران؛

چکیده داستان: «هستر پرین (شخصیت اصلی داستان)» زن جوان و متاهلی است، که گفته می‌شود «همسرش سال­ها پیش به مسافرتی رفته، ولی هرگز برنگشته است، و همگان به یقین رسیده‌ اند، که وی مرده است»؛ داستان از جایی آغاز می‌شود، که «هستر» به علت ارتکاب زنا، با مهم‌ترین کشیش شهر «آرتور دیمزدیل»؛ صاحب بچه ­ای به نام «پرل»، شده، همان بچه، رسوایی و جرم و گناه بزرگ او را، آشکار ساخته، بنابراین «هستر» در زندان است؛ از او میخواهند که نام پدر بچه را افشا کند، تا او نیز محاکمه گردد؛ اما «هستر» بسیار وفادار و شجاع است، و از انجام آنکار، خودداری می­کند؛ حکم مجازاتش این است، که می­بایست همراه با فرزند حرامزاده ی خویش، در وسط شهر، و در پیشگاه عموم، بر روی سکوی اعدام بایستد، تا همگان او را ببینند، و نیز تا پایان عمر خویش، همواره باید، «داغ ننگ» یا «اسکارلت لتر» را بر روی سینه‌، و تن خویش داشته باشد، تا همیشه، به عنوان یک زناکار، میان مردم شناخته شود؛ او مجازات را با افتخار می­پذیرد، و در زیر بار رسوایی، و تحقیراتی که جامعه به او تحمیل می‌کند، شکست را نمی‌پذیرد، تا اینکه رفته رفته، با اعمال خیرخواهانه‌ اش، نگاه جامعه را به سوی خود تغییر داده، در انتهای داستان حرف «آ» بر روی سینه‌ اش، بجای نماینده ی واژه­ ی «آدالترس»، نمایانگر کلمه «آنجل» به معنی فرشته، تجلی میکند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 23/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 24/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for a.novel.femme.
59 reviews147 followers
August 19, 2016
oh god.

hawthorne is that perpetually needy manchild of a writer, you know the one who peers over your shoulder while youre trying to read and keeps pointing out the parts of his own writing that he finds particularly good and/or moving.

"yeah, see? do you see? see how i talked about how the rose is red, and then i talk about how hesters 'a' is red, too? do you see what im trying to do here, with the symbolism?"

and its like that all the way through the book.

*edit 12 september 2008: im tutoring with this for of my students, as her AP english teacher is teaching it as part of his curriculum. and yes, it still sucks as badly as i remember. actually, even more so, because now i have to teach it.
Profile Image for Peter Derk.
Author 24 books332 followers
June 9, 2011
It's great to finally get back to the classics. It's been far too long since I read a book with careful intensity, noting throwaway lines that are likely to show up on a multiple choice or short answer test that misses the main themes of a book entirely while managing to ask lots of questions like, "In the fourth chapter, what kind of shoes was [character you don't even remember] wearing?"

I was thinking maybe it would be nice to read a book like this without worrying about that stuff, just absorbing it for what it was and then moving on through my life drunk.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It's hard to know where to start with this thing.

The prose itself is almost unreadable. Let me give you an example of what a sentence in this book is like:

A man- who was born in a small town, which bore no resemblance to the town his parents imagined for him when they settled in the area over 40 years ago with every intention of starting a small business selling gift baskets online that sort of petered out after bigger companies like FTD caught onto the whole thing and ran the little guys out with predatory pricing- decided to go for a walk one day.

I shit you not. Whenever I saw a dash I'd skip down to find the second dash, and usually managed to cruise through half a page to find the relevant piece where the prose picked up again.

Word on the street is that Hawthorne, who published the book in 1850, actually wrote it to seem EVEN MORE old-timey than it was, which is pretty goddamn old-timey at this point. As far as I can tell, writing old-timey means:

1. Describing furniture and clothing in such exhaustive detail that royal wedding coverage appears shabby and underdeveloped.

2. Using commas wherever the fuck you feel like it.

3. Structuring the plot in such a way that you already know everything that's going to happen way before it does.

Let's talk plot while we're on the topic.

The plot is like Dynasty with all the juicy parts pulled out. I'm serious. All events could be summed up by video of a guy sitting in front of a sign that says, "Banging people isn't so bad" and winking from time to time. One of the characters is damned, and as she walks through the forest the bits of light that dot the trail through the canopy of trees literally vanish before she can walk into them. Now this would be fine in a book where the damned character was in the woods, say, leading an army of orcs. But in a book where the sexual and social mores of Puritan society are called into question, it kind of overdoes everything and kills the mood.

So it all begs the question: What the fuck is going on with these classics?

The Scarlet Letter, according to a recent study, is the sixth-most taught book in American high schools. It's very popular, and you can hardly enter a Barnes and Noble without seeing a new version with such awesome cover art that it almost tricks you into buying it.

I have a frequent argument with my brother regarding what makes things (movies, books, whatever) great. To him, for example, a movie might be great because it's the first movie to usher in a new era in filmmaking, really redefining an era while paying a loving homage to the past. Context is important to him, and reading the stuff on the IMDB page is part of the movie experience in his world.

For me, I don't really give a shit about context. Knowing that Hawthorne had certain feelings about Puritanism based on his ancestry doesn't really matter much to me. Finding out that the main character was based loosely on the author's wife doesn't really do a whole lot for me. In other words, I demand to be entertained on at least some level, and if the level of entertainment doesn't spur me on to dig deeper, I think that's a failure of the art and not an example of my own laziness contributing to my dislike of the art in question.

Furthermore, when the prose is TOO challenging I am constantly thinking, "This is a book I am reading and here is the next line of this book." I am not at all swept up in the narrative and therefore don't enjoy it nearly as much.

I like to think of books as being like magicians. Take a David Copperfield...the magician, not the book. His schtick is to do amazing tricks that appear effortless on his part, which is why they are, well, magical. David Blaine, on the other hand, performs feats that do not appear effortless whatsoever, and therefore far less magical. It takes a great writer to write a great book. It takes an even better writer to write a great book that appears nearly effortless.

One might accuse me of rarely reading challenging books, and maybe it's true. I find myself drawn to books that compel me to finish them as opposed to those that I feel I have to slog through while other books are sitting in growing piles around my apartment, calling out to me with their promises of genuine laughs, heartbreak that is relevant to me, and prose that doesn't challenge me to the point that it's more of a barrier to the story than anything.

Perhaps most telling, at the book club meeting we were discussing this last night, and an older lady asked a pretty decent question: "Why is this considered a classic?"

There are two answers, one that is what the Everyman Library will tell you and one that I would tell you.

Everyman would say that the book is a classic because it is an excellent snapshot of a historical period. It has a narrative set within a framework that allows us to better understand our roots as Americans. The issues of people's perceptions of women and rights of women are still very alive today. Overall, it gives us a chance to examine our own society through the lens of fiction, therefore re-framing the conversation to make it less personal and easier to examine without bias. Blah, blah, blah.

I would say it's a classic because it was one of the more palatable books that came out during the period when "classics" were made. I would also point out that the canonized classics are never revised. We never go back and say which books maybe have less to say about our lives than they used to, or which might still be relevant but have been usurped by something that is closer to the lives we live today. I would also say that it continues to be taught in schools because the kind of people who end up teaching high school English are most often people who have a deep and abiding respect for these types of books and identified with these types of books at around that time in their lives. I think there are a lot of people out there who never liked these books, and rather than making their voices heard about what they think people should read they just drop out of the world of books altogether.

My point is, I think this is a bad book. It's got low readability, even for adults. The plot is melodramatic. The characters are single-dimensional crap, the women being constant victims of the time and the men being weak examples of humanity. Also, a very serious story is halted in places where we are expected to believe that magic letter A's pop up in the sky like you might see in an episode of Sesame Street.

It must have been a very exciting book in its time, without a doubt based on its sales. And if this kind of book is your thing, good for you. I don't begrudge you your joy. It's just not a book that I would ever dream of foisting on someone else, nor would I recommend reading it unless you are absolutely required.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
March 5, 2017
"Behold, verily, there is the women of the Scarlet Letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running alongside her”

Let’s talk a little bit about self-fulfilling prophecy. If an entire community, and religious sect, brand a girl’s mother as a sinner, whether justly or unjustly, then surely the girl will take some of this to heart? If the only world she has ever known is one when he only parent is considered ungodly, blasphemous and full of sin, then surely she will begin to reflect some of these ideals? When the Puritans branded Hester with the Scarlet Letter, they also branded her daughter (metaphorically speaking, of course.)


This novel is a political message directly pointed at the Puritans of early America. In their blind devoutness they almost cause the very thing they are actually preaching against. Ultimately, Hawthorne portrays the religious sect as hypocrites who are completely self-defeating in their actions. What’s the point in preaching a religion if you don’t fully adhere to its doctrine? There’s none. Actions have consequences, so does unjustified damnation. Indeed, in this the author establishes how some extreme piety can almost cause impiety. Religion can be taken too far. Christianity is built upon the principals of forgiveness, and repentance, not punishment and the shaming of the guilty. Well, what the Puritans perceive as guilty. Then there is the entire separate issue of the fact that those men of the cloth can be guilty too. Nobody is completely pure despite what they think.

Hester’s biggest sin is getting pregnant outside of marriage. In their persecution of her they don’t consider how she could be the victim in all this. I’m not saying that she is, in this regard, but to the best of their knowledge she could well be. She could have been raped. They’re also unforgivingly sexist; they, again, consider Hester to be the guilty party without recognising that it takes two to do the deed. Their ignorance knows no bounds to the realities of life; they shield themselves with their religious virtue and do not consider that there is a harsh world out there. Men like this are dangerous, and in this Hawthorne establishes his message.

“I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!”


This is a very accomplished novel; it provides an interesting perspective on a crucial part of American history. It was an enlightening read, but toward the middle it’s focus did begin to dwindle. I felt like there were a few passages of convoluted and unnecessary narration. I mean this was short, though it could have been a little shorter. The middle was drawn out with some irrelevant events thrown in. I’m not entirely sure of their point. The language combination was also a little odd at times; it felt like the author had lifted certain expressions straight from Shakespeare’s vocabulary and infused it with his own. The result was a very disjointed and hard to read combination.

The overall message of this piece of literature is what makes it a worthy read even if its delivery was a little pedantic at times. Overall, though, I do attest that this is a rather undervalued novel. The socio-historical context it provides is tremendous. This is a classic I’m very glad I read. The overall message of this piece of literature is what makes it a worthy read even if its delivery was a little pedantic at times.
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books580 followers
May 7, 2008
Actually, I've read this book twice, the first time when I was in high school. Reading it again after some thirty years, I was amazed at the amount of meaning I'd missed the first time!

Most modern readers don't realize (and certainly aren't taught in school) that Hawthorne --as his fiction, essays and journals make clear-- was a strong Christian, though he steadfastly refused to join a denomination; and here his central subject is the central subject of the Christian gospel: sin's guilt and forgiveness. (Unlike many moderns, Hawthorne doesn't regard Hester's adultery as perfectly okay and excusable --though he also doesn't regard it as an unforgivable sin.) But his faith was of a firmly Arminian sort; and as he makes abundantly clear, it's very hard for sinners mired in the opposite, Calvinist tradition to lay hold of repentance and redemption when their religious beliefs tell them they may not be among the pre-chosen "elect." (It's no accident that his setting is 17th-century New England --the heartland of an unadulterated, unquestioned Calvinism whose hold on people's minds was far more iron-clad than it had become in his day.) If you aren't put off by 19th-century diction, this book is a wonderful read, with its marvelous symbolism and masterful evocation of the atmosphere of the setting (the occasional hints of the possibly supernatural add flavor to the whole like salt in a stew). Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
July 12, 2020

Maybe 2.5 stars if I were just rating this on how much I actually enjoyed reading it. The 40 page Custom-House introduction was pure pain to plow through, no lie, and there are a lot of slow spots where Hawthorne gets hung up in the details.

But. 5 stars for the richness of Hawthorne's language, the intriguing symbolism, and the way he delves into the human heart. So I'll compromise at 4 stars.

The Custom-House part (which is just a framing device; seriously, I'll skip it if I ever read this again) tells of a man who finds the fateful scrap of red cloth: a scarlet A, beautifully embroidered with gold thread, along with a 200 year old manuscript telling the story of Hester Prynne. This man then retells her story ...

In the mid-1600s Boston is a Puritan settlement, so adultery was a huge scandal. Hester Prynne is led out of jail in front of a crowd, her baby daughter Pearl in her arms, and with the scarlet A on her dress, standing for "Adultress."


She's put in a scaffold and publicly shamed. Her elderly husband has been missing for years, so it's clear he's not the father of Pearl. But Hester resolutely refuses to name the actual father. What she doesn't realize at first is that her long-lost husband is in the crowd, hiding his identity from everyone. Going by the name of Roger Chillingworth (*shivers*), he settles in and patiently waits for his chance for revenge.

Boston officials try to take Pearl away from Hester, but a young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, pleads her case. The popular Dimmesdale has his own problems: a mysterious wasting disease and heart trouble. Maybe - just maybe - his problems are mostly psychological? And then (the secretly suspicious) Chillingworth decides to "befriend" Dimmesdale.

The use of a scarlet letter on clothing to publicly brand adulterers is a historic fact, but Hawthorne turns it into a potent symbol. I loved this take on it, from an excellent critical review and analysis in The Atlantic:
We may realize its value, in the present case, by imagining the book with the scarlet letter omitted. It is not practically essential to the plot. But the scarlet letter uplifts the theme from the material to the spiritual level. It is the concentration and type of the whole argument. It transmutes the prose into poetry. It serves as a formula for the conveyance of ideas otherwise too subtle for words, as well as to enhance the gloomy picturesqueness of the moral scenery. It burns upon its wearer's breast, it casts a lurid glow along her pathway, it isolates her among mankind, and is at the same time the mystic talisman to reveal to her the guilt hidden in other hearts.
The entire story - each character, each event, people's appearances, even objects - is filled with symbolism. Light and darkness, sin and secrecy, suffering and redemption, all have a role. It can be a little - or a lot - hard to wade through the old-fashioned language and viewpoint of The Scarlet Letter, but it really rewards the reader who's willing to look deeper.
Profile Image for Matt.
917 reviews28.2k followers
March 20, 2021
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true…”
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

When I think of The Scarlet Letter, I think of all the things I hated about high school English. Indeed, I think of all the things I see as wrongheaded in the way we teach literature to kids.

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. Yet, when I entered high school, it did not take long for that love to shrivel like autumnal leaves, there to break and scatter beneath the heels of a succession of well-meaning teachers trotting out their oh-so-familiar-syllabi. Despite being a prolific, above-age-level reader throughout middle school, I doubt I finished more than a handful of titles during those four years.

The reason, at least in part, is Nathaniel Hawthorne, an author who wrote dense prose about complicated themes, with little regard for pacing or dramatic set pieces. It is a style found in many of the titles that make up the bulk of required reading lists.

When you are handed The Scarlet Letter at the age of fourteen or fifteen, and you open those pages, you are not about to enter a realm of wonder and enchantment. Rather, you are thrust into a ruthless psychological excavation, not unlike the dissection of that fetal pig you did in biology. You must trudge through sentences that cling like brambles, and divine meaning from Hawthorne’s gratuitous use of colors and symbols. By the time it’s over, it’s hard not to hate the very idea of picking up a book.

Any book.

Lost are any of the simple joys of a well-told story.

Sure, there is good reason to study literature, and the important, lifelong tools you thereby gain such as critical thinking, attention to detail, and sitting still long enough to finish a page (especially in this age of constant swiping). I’m certainly not calling for the abolition of English class.

For my money, though, it’s more important to get impressionable, distracted youngsters to love reading in the first place. Drug dealers know all about getting their clients hooked on the good stuff. In this area, English teachers are lagging.

If I ran the world, I’d be assigning popular contemporary fiction in high school, subjecting them to the same analyses with half the pain.

As you might have noticed, I don’t run the world. Furthermore, in the universe in which we happen to coexist, The Scarlet Letter remains a classic, though it grows dustier with each passing year. Thus, it was with a need for catharsis, as well as a sense of unfinished business, that I picked this up twenty-five years after I last set it down.

(Full disclosure: I set it down in 1994 in order to pick up the Cliffs Notes version).

The big surprise here: I sort of loved it.

Like all literary masterpieces, The Scarlet Letter requires little by way of introduction. It is the story of a “fallen” woman, her vengeful (and incognito) husband, and a charismatic young minister harboring a terrible secret.

When the novel opens, the heroine, Hester Prynne, is stepping through the prison door, on her way to a scaffold where she is to be publicly shamed. She wears the titular red “A” on her breast, marking her as an adulteress. In her arms she bears Pearl, the daughter born of sin. Hester’s affair is well over by the time we meet her, and little mention is made of it. (I can’t even recall Hawthorne explicitly stating the meaning of the “A”). The focus here is not on the sin, but on the sinner, and her road to redemption.

(My version of The Scarlet Letter opens with a thirty-plus page “introductory” called The Custom-House. This is a meandering, long-winded, semi-autobiographical sketch of Hawthorne’s time as a surveyor at the Custom-House in Salem, Massachusetts. During this time, Hawthorne claims that he came across the “true” story of Hester Prynne, which he goes on to relate in the actual novel. I’m not sure if The Custom-House is technically part of The Scarlet Letter or not. I think not. Nevertheless, I read it, since I am a bit anal about things like that. Anyway, no part of this reading experience brought me closer to my impatient, high-school self than slogging through this unnecessary opening act).

Hester refuses to name her partner-in-lust, even after the arrival of her much-older husband, who now calls himself Roger Chillingworth (excellent name, by the by). Chillingworth is a physician who has spent time among the Indians. He takes it upon himself to discover the identity of Hester’s paramour, so that he can enact his revenge.

The third character in The Scarlet Letter’s triad is Arthur Dimmesdale, a popular preacher much loved by the Boston town-folk. He uses his clout to defend Hester when he can. He also happens to be wasting away for some inexplicable reason.

The Scarlet Letter is set in 1642, and features a number of real-life personages and allusions to actual events, which is Hawthorne’s attempt to lend this verity. Despite being just over two-hundred pages long, The Scarlet Letter spans some seven years, as the stoic, isolated Hester proudly bears her shame, and gradually works herself back into the good graces of her community. (Since her community is made up of Puritans, this results in little more than a slightly-less-grim frown as she passes through town).

Hawthorne’s prose requires your attention. He tends towards long, clause-studded sentences, in which he uses both commas and hyphens to pack in as much information, digressionary or not, as he possibly can. Though he has the short-story writer’s knowledge of exactly where he is going, Hawthorne also displays a Dickensian tendency towards using five words when a period would have sufficed. And of course, there is the Puritan-Speak, especially in the dialogue, which is clotted with thees, thous, hithers and yons.

With all that said, he can sure describe a place. I really appreciated his ability to conjure a precolonial Massachusetts as an island in the midst of a wilderness that is both Edenic and forbidding.

The core story itself is so iconic that it is difficult to judge objectively. If this was written today, would anyone care? I’m not sure. In any event, the interplay between Hester, Arthur, and Roger is fascinating. Roger, especially, deserves a special guest star award, for enlivening every scene of which he is a part. Hester, too, holds her own. Though she is not quite a proto-feminist bucking the patriarchy while blasting Liz Phair, she is tough, resilient, and hearteningly indifferent to the judgments of others.

The Scarlet Letter famously ends with scenes that are so overwrought and melodramatic that they bear little resemblance to reality. Even taking into consideration the setting – a period in which otherwise-normal men and women believed that witches were flying over their heads on a nightly basis – Hester, Roger, and especially Arthur are extremely operatic. They are so histrionic that one can be excused for thinking he or she has wandered away from Hawthorne’s haunted New England and stumbled into Dostoyevsky’s St. Petersburg.

That said, I actually found the over-the-top denouement to be…fun. I know, I’m as surprised as you. All it took was an acceptance that this was a world ruled by emotion, in which reason and rationality have no place. Unlike the Puritans themselves, I just went with the flow.

The irony, of course, is that I have come to enjoy this book about emotionally volatile adults so long after high school, where emotional volatility is the engine of the machine. It is only with the (relative) calm that comes with age that I recognize how this is sort of the perfect novel to match the mental state of a typical teenager.

Not that your typical teenager is ever going to voluntarily read this.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
August 18, 2012
So I finally got to find out for myself what the majority of American high-schoolers are subjected to, and while I see the importance of a story like this and the ideas it presents in 1850, I think the subject matter is both outdated and irrelevant today. One might, of course, choose to point out that Hester Prynne's antics would still today be considered immoral in certain parts of the world, however the difference is that they probably wouldn't treat her so leniently as this seventeenth-century puritan community in Boston did. Therefore, it is neither applicable nor particularly shocking. The most surprising thing was that she didn't get hung for her "crime" in the 1600s - a time when people were attached to boulders, thrown in a lake, and if they drowned they were innocent, and if they survived they were burnt as witches.

I think the main problem for me is that a lot of The Scarlet Letter relies on the religious aspect instead of the social aspect. It's much harder to appreciate the tragedy of that blemish on Hester's soul when you're not religious. I expected a lot more ostracising and name-calling from other members of the community but most people talked to Hester like she'd done nothing wrong (though, they tended to stare at her scarlet letter) and her bad reputation didn't seem to affect her life massively. Like I said, Hester Prynne's real struggle was with how God saw her and if she could be forgiven in the afterlife.

In fact, it didn't seem to me like much of the main story was about the scarlet letter attached to her bosom. If you don't know the story, basically Hester Prynne commits adultery that results in the birth of an illegitimate child, the ministers then rule that she should be forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A' for the rest of her life so she will be publicly shamed. This is at the beginning in the first couple of chapters. After that, the story is about finding out the identity of the father (no mystery at all), interactions between Hester and her husband, and the growth of Hester's illegitimate and really annoying child.

The greatest strength of The Scarlet Letter is that it gives us Hester - one of the early strong female protagonists. She is far more feisty and willing to stand up for herself than most Austen (for one example) characters, but she also lacks the depth of personality that other nineteenth-century female creations have. But, beyond the scandal, I'm just not sure this book is worthy of its popularity. I had a look on sparknotes to try and see why the novel earned its masterpiece badge, and many of the techniques and themes explored are such as the use of night and day to be symbolic and the choice of names:

"Chillingworth is cold and inhuman and thus brings a “chill” to Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s lives. “Prynne” rhymes with “sin,” while “Dimmesdale” suggests “dimness”—weakness, indeterminacy, lack of insight, and lack of will, all of which characterize the young minister. The name “Pearl” evokes a biblical allegorical device—the “pearl of great price” that is salvation."

If it is this kind of small attention to details that makes a story so brilliant for you, then you might just love The Scarlet Letter. But I prefer something bigger, that moves or inspires or angers me. I don't want to have to analyse a text to discover how great it is, partly because I believe you can see symbolism in anything if you look hard enough (see: Shakespeare). It's not that I mind this nitty-gritty stuff being there, but I think it's a poor substitute for well-developed characters and plot.

Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,291 followers
May 4, 2023
M-aș opri la episodul central al romanului, pentru a nota un amănunt care mi-a scăpat la prima lectură.

Toată lumea știe că Hester Prynne a fost condamnată să poarte o literă roșie pe veșmînt, pentru a vădi tuturor păcatul comis: A de la „adulter/in”.

Probabil că mult mai puțini cititori au sesizat, din pricina unui pasaj cam obscur, faptul că însuși pastorul Arthur Dimmesdale poartă stigmatul, dar nu pe straie, ci înscris pe trup. Cînd, la sfîrșitul cărții, pastorul își mărturisește în public păcatul (relația cu Hester), citim aceste propoziții care m-au surprins prin ambiguitatea lor. Iată:
„Acest semn, omul acela [Dimmesdale, firește, n.m.] îl purta pe el! Ochiul lui Dumnezeu îl vedea! Îngerii îl arătau mereu cu degetul! Diavolul îl cunoștea bine și-l rodea fără istov cu gheara lui aprinsă! El însă îl ascundea cu viclenie... Acum, în ceasul morții, iată-l în fața voastră! Vă cere să priviți iarăși litera stacojie a lui Hester! E vreunul dintre voi care să pună la îndoială judecata Domnului asupra unui păcătos? Priviți! Priviți groaznica ei mărturie!
Și cu un gest convulsiv, își desfăcu la piept veșmîntul sacerdotal. Atunci, revelația se săvîrși!... O clipă, privirile mulțimii cuprinse de groază se concentrară asupra înspăimîntătorului miracol, în timp ce pastorul stătea drept ca un om care, într-un acces de extremă durere, cîștigase o victorie. Apoi se prăbuși pe platformă (pp.243-244)”.

Ambiguitatea rămîne pînă la capăt. Nu știm, nu vom ști niciodată dacă litera stigmatizantă a apărut pe trupul pastorului printr-un miracol divin / diavolesc, sau dacă pastorul însuși și-a înscris cu fierul înroșit în foc litera rușinoasă.

Căutînd prin cărți să văd ce au spus alții, am găsit în volumul din 2003 al lui Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, o afirmație care întărește ideea că litera păcatului s-a format de la sine: Dimmesdale „rips open his shirt to reveal a bizarre stigmata (an A which has formed itself on the flesh of his chest), and then dies” (p.91).

P. S. Firește, Litera stacojie nu face parte din cărțile mele preferate... Nu mi-a plăcut prea tare acest roman. Intriga lui e neverosimilă. Nu împărtășesc viziunea puritană a destinului înțeles ca stihie implacabilă. Individul nu mai are liber arbitru. N-o pot compătimi din tot sufletul nici pe sărmana Hester Prynne. Nu-i înțeleg pasivitatea cu care acceptă loviturile sorții. Sigur, în secolul al XVII-lea, cam toată lumea accepta resemnată hotărîrile Providenței...
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
April 3, 2020
An entrancing allegory about social stigma, hypocrisy, and the cruelty of patriarchy, The Scarlet Letter reflects on the different forms guilt and punishment take for men and women, across classes. Set in puritanical Massachusetts, the famous romance charts the plight of Hester Prynne, the young wife of an old scholar still in England. Hester gives birth to a daughter of unknown parentage, and finds herself an outcast; in labyrinthine prose the story dramatizes her struggle to care for her child in the face of a callous community. Counterpointing the heroine’s tale is that of a talented but ailing minister with a dark secret he conceals from all. Much’s made of Hawthorne’s elaborate sentences, but the work’s full of wit and moving reflections on what it means to live isolated on the margins.
Profile Image for Blaine.
747 reviews603 followers
May 25, 2022
Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.
Many, many years ago, my Honors 11 English class was assigned The Scarlet Letter by our teacher, Mrs. Janet Fuchs. Although I read a lot back then, when I was sixteen I was not very interested in delving into the wrongs wrought by the Christian patriarchy. Instead I relied on Cliffs Notes (to Mrs. Fuchs’ dismay, I was not subtle about it). Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to read more classics—those never assigned and those that I bluffed my way through—but I hadn’t gotten around to this one. Well, Mrs. Fuchs passed away a couple of weeks ago. She was a great teacher, fondly remembered by a generation of students, and I’m sure I would have learned a lot more from her had I actually put forth the effort. So, as way of honoring her (though perhaps a very weird of way), I decided to finally read The Scarlet Letter.

Parts of the reading experience here were predictable. The language is a bit stilted in places. And there are just So Many Symbols: the rosebush, the scaffold, daytime v. nighttime, nature v. society, physical manifestations of emotional states, the names of Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and Pearl, and last but not least, the titular scarlet letter itself, possibly the most famous symbol in all of literature. (That would be a fun list to try to come up with: the scarlet letter, the whale from Moby Dick, Harry Potter’s scar, what else?)

But I was surprised by how well the story holds up for a modern audience. Hester’s feminist choices and moral strength to accept society’s judgment while refusing to name her lover. Chillingworth’s willingness to accept his portion of blame for what happened between them. The story’s portrayal of the quotation* attributed to Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” The theme that the self-loathing born from some secret sin is even more destructive than the shame that comes with publicly owning your mistakes. And Hawthorne makes a mockery of Puritanical morality, and the ultimate futility of a patriarchal society trying to brand the women it can neither control nor do without.

The Scarlet Letter may be the quintessential** book for studying in school. The deliberate construction of the story, the actual early-American history blended into the fiction, the themes, motifs, symbols, and other literary devices, all beg for this book to be taught in English classes. Fortunately for future generations of students, it is a timeless story, with much to teach to those willing to learn. Recommended.

* “You quote someone. It is a quotation.” A classic Mrs. Fuchs correction of a student who dared to use the word “quote” as a noun.

** No one left Mrs. Fuchs’s class without being able to use her favorite word—quintessential—in a sentence. RIP, Mrs. Fuchs.
Profile Image for Melissa Rudder.
175 reviews236 followers
September 29, 2011
This was my third time reading The Scarlet Letter. The first time was during my junior year of high school. I actually enjoyed it, though literature of the nineteenth century was such a mystery to me then that I shied away from the creaky long words and felt proud of myself for succeeding in merely following the plot. When I first read it to teach it last year, I was enraptured. This year was the same. Hawthorne has such an impressive command over language. The eloquence of his language carries such depth that it's like reading poetry. I find myself underlining multiple sections on every page, wishing I had months to spend teaching the book, just so I could spend hours with my classes exploring the complex meaning and patterns unfolding in his language. (My students probably wouldn't find it as fun as I would, I betcha.)

Reading the soap-opera-like plot is a guilty pleasure. Possibly because I'm accustomed to the quiet romance of nineteenth century novels, I find the love scene(s?) between Hester and her secret lover touching and sweet (I think I cried this time through when they were in the woods), where most people apparently find them stale and unrealistic. Even though the plot hinges on scandals and secrets, the novel is very much an exploration of human interior and motives, and I think Hawthorne creates very interesting characters. I love that, though Hester conforms to the austerity of her penance on the outside, Hawthorne occasionally affords the reader insights into her wild, turbulent, and rebellious interior. And I love Pearl. Oh, that silly little imp of evil.

I really enjoy Hawthorne's use of symbolism throughout the novel--the letter, Pearl, the rosebush, weeds, leeches, light, darkness, the scaffold, Hester's hair, etc. I don't know if all the symbolism is super obvious or if it now seems super obvious because I shove it down my students' throats, but it is admittedly gratifying catching patterns and reaching conclusions that Hawthorne repeatedly supports throughout the book. It just makes my ego feel good.

Next time I read The Scarlet Letter, I want to focus on the use of bird imagery to describe Pearl and on how Hawthorne's Romantic view of Nature and nineteenth century perception of women informs his interpretation/critique of Puritanism, a less "developed" American landscape, and Hester.

I really like The Scarlet Letter. It may be on my top ten. But I think if I ever sat down to write my top ten, it would have about forty books in it. Nevertheless, based on my interest in The Scarlet Letter, I'm seriously considering rereading The House of Seven Gables, which, after being forced to read it before my freshman year of high school, is my most hated book ever. I have a feeling I might like it more now than when I was 12.

(This review was from 2007. I've now read it several more times. It never gets old.)
Profile Image for Nicole.
438 reviews13.4k followers
September 29, 2021
Największe rozczarowanie. Styl autora jest nieznośny, pozbawiony jakichkolwiek emocji.
Profile Image for Kat Kennedy.
475 reviews16.2k followers
February 18, 2011
Modern society and a number of people seem somewhat confused about our ancestors. On one hand, they're dumbass peasants who attached BYOW (Bring Your Own Witch) to their barbeque invitations. On the other hand, they sometimes imbue them with super mystical intelligence, class and abilities whilst bemoaning how stupid and uncouth we have become in comparison.

The Scarlet Letter allows us to judge that the reality was somewhere in between but mostly sitting on the side of pathological stupidity.

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And borderline sluttery, but we don't complain about that part...

The Scarlet Letter is one of those books they force children in American schools to read at gunpoint in an effort to "educate" them and to force otherwise useful knowledge out of those young brains.

Precious, precious knowledge!

In fact, reading this book reminded me of why I'm so passionately vocal about education reform!

Changing Education Paradigms

This book is pretty much everything wrong with our education system today. It is out of date, it's read pretty much consistently across the board whether it's applicable or not, and its lessons aren't entirely fundamental to today's society and what little value is to be learnt in this book, is better learned by other means.

The fact is that people are getting smarter. All the time. It may not look that way when Jersey Shore starts up on your television set, but it's true. And we're really too smart for a book whose object lessons are so comically out of date in today's society. This book deals mostly with issues that are no longer issues, and any moral lessons that might apply to life today are so badly translated that one must argue why this book is still circulating in the education system. This is why most high school graduates don't like reading, and mostly, don't like reading the classics. They think it'll just be more of the same as The Scarlet Letter.

So, please, if you are in school and your psycho bitch of an English teacher (remember: men can be bitches too!) is asking you to read this book, tell them their antiquated ideas of education are suppressing your self-actualized desire to learn in a mode that is both natural and effectual to one day becoming a valued member of society.

Remind them that reading old books a bunch translates to being educated about as much as placing said books on your head and hoping you absorb the knowledge through a form of psychic-osmosis.

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Or you could show them this picture and intimate through a series of eye-wiggles that this is THEM and you refuse to be a part of it.

If they argue, please feel free to tell them that I give you full permission to go read something that isn't a complete waste of your time.

Profile Image for James.
Author 19 books3,571 followers
November 11, 2017
Book Review
4 of 5 stars to The Scarlet Letter, a classic romantic period tale written in 1850, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Students are often required to read excerpts from this book, if not the whole book, during school. I was one of those students, but then I read it again in college as part of my American Romanticism course during freshmen year. But I also read it a third time prior to a movie being released, as I liked the actors in the movie, but wanted to be able to compare the literary work against it... and it had been a while since I'd read the story.

It's a tough work to get into, given the language and style. But once you do, it flourishes. Apart from being one of the most influential works of Puritan belief systems, it also broke ground by truly focusing on a woman who has done something sacrilegious above and beyond any normal broken sins. To lay with a man when you are not married... ugh, let's throw some stones at that vixen! Phew... not that I got that out of my system...

I love the story. It was necessary at that time to push the envelope. People needed to break away from Puritan traditions of the former century. Minds were starting to open up about what it meant to be in love, to have a child and to be on your own. I may not agree with some of the lessons in the story, nor with the beliefs of all the Puritanical books, but there's something to be said when this story can transcend time -- and become a much copied work of literature. So many modern stories and books reference The Scarlet Letter... show the "A" on a woman's chest... even down to something like Pretty Little Liars which has nothing to do with this book, but the villain simply goes by "A" in the first few books. Some may think I'm pushing it by connecting those dots, but it all got its start from this book, in my opinion.

Love it. But can't give it a 5 as the language is difficult, tho I understand it was fine for the times.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,457 reviews8,555 followers
September 30, 2011
Nathaniel Hawthorne is the coolest name ever.

I can see why people dislike this book, though. Hawthorne doesn't hesitate to use a lot of words. He prefers to perforate his readers' craniums with an extensive utilization of verbose language, thus intimidating and irritating those whose literary palettes do not include grandiose diction.

Reading The Scarlet Letter relieved me. I'd take rambling paragraphs and stocky sentences over quadratic equations and piecewise functions any day. Besides, his writing is beautiful. A little grandiloquent, yes, but still absolutely brilliant.

Not to mention that it must've required courage to publish a book like this. It's openly feminist and psychological, two things that I'm sure were not comfortable dinner topics in the 1850's. Hawthorne skilfully delves into the themes of legalism and guilt, and the story is one to think about. Apparently he wrote the book (and changed his last name from Hathorne to Hawthorne) because his uncle was an executioner at the Salem witch trials - kind of sounds like something I would do...

*cross-posted from my blog, the quiet voice.
Profile Image for Fernando.
680 reviews1,089 followers
February 26, 2021
"No hay una sola punta en esa letra escarlata que no le haya pinchado el corazón."

Nathaniel Hawthorne ha quedado en la historia como uno de los iniciadores de la literatura de Estados Unidos en el siglo XIX junto con Herman Melville (quien lo admiraba profundamente dedicándole el libro Moby Dick) y Edgar Allan Poe. Podríamos sumar también a Washinton Irving, Henry Longfellow y más tarde a Ambrose Bierce a este grupo de pioneros literarios.
Escritor fecundo, nos dejó dos grandes novelas como son esta y La casa de los siete tejados, así también como una gran cantidad de cuentos, algunos de factura realmente notable y maravillosa, incluidos en Cuentos dos veces contados y Musgos de una vieja rectoría.
Yo tuve este libro en el estante sin leer durante mucho tiempo (años para ser exacto), y como estoy poniéndome al día con una gran cantidad de novelas sin leer, decidí empezar con esta de Hawthorne. Debo reconocer la maestría del autor para plantearnos una historia que seguramente debe haber levantado críticas en la época que se publicó. Cabe destacar que Hawthorne nació en Salem y su bisabuelo, que se apellidaba Hathorne, sin la w, había sido parte de los inquisidores puritanos encargados de “cazar” y condenar decenas de mujeres por brujería.
La letra escarlata, es una novela que nos deja una profunda reflexión sobre la moral, el castigo, las costumbres y la hipocresía reinante en la sociedad puritana de Nueva Inglaterra a comienzos del siglo XIX. Hester Prynne se erige como una de esas grandes heroínas que podemos encontrar en la literatura.
Sufre la degradación, el desprecio y la condena durante siete años y es obligada a llevar el estigma de esa letra A en rojo escarlata, prendada al pecho, como castigo por concebir a su hija Pearl, en adulterio.
Esa letra escarlata echará raíces que se clavarán como dagas en su corazón. Pero no atravesará este condena sola. A partir de que es expuesta en el patíbulo a la salida de la cárcel, emprenderá esta vida dura y sacrificada con su pequeña “niña-duende”, quien, a lo largo de los años será su sostén moral y motivo principal para seguir adelante.
Lo maravilloso en Hester Prynne es que siempre mantiene su cabeza erguida, estoica, sin revelar nunca quién es el padre de esa niña, por la cual es obligada a lleva la A escarlata bordada en sus vestidos. Y es en base a esto que gira toda la historia.
Es difícil ahondar más en el desarrollo de la historia porque se corre el riesgo de hacer spoiler, dado que no son muchos los personajes que desfilan por las páginas del libro, por lo que respetaré a aquel lector que se interese por leer la novela.
A mí me gustó, aunque tiene cierta forma un tanto intrincada de narrar por momentos los sucesos. Dicen que leerla en inglés es aún más enrevesado. Yo soy un gran admirador de Hawthorne y es uno de mis autores preferidos. Su “negrura”, como diría Melville, es lo que más me atrae, dado que, cuando de cuentos se trata, tienen estos cierta oscuridad que paradójicamente les da un brillo particular y hacen que atraigan poderosamente mi atención y me entusiasme leerlos.
Recomiendo fuertemente leer sus “Cuentos dos veces contados”, entre los que se incluyen Wakefield, de fuertes connotaciones existenciales en el que se puede percibir características que posteriormente desarrollaría en sus relatos Franz Kafka.
La letra escarlata es un libro que todo lector de clásicos debe agregar a sus lecturas. La forma en la que Hawthorne nos relata la historia nos hace plantear hasta qué punto a veces lo moral o lo correcto pueden influir negativamente en una sociedad y en las personas si estos valores son aplicados en forma equivocada.
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,558 followers
October 21, 2015

This is one of those books which can effortlessly lend itself to a variety of critical readings, each one of them as legitimate as the next one. On one hand it treats Hester almost like a proto-feminist figure, undaunted and dignified in the face of public disgrace, one who earns her own living to raise her child and on the other, she is readily accepting of her own persecution.

Similarly, Dimmesdale is torn between his emotional urges and his allegiance to a doctrine which denies him his humanity. Oppressed by the faith he clings on to for meaning and validation, he chooses private anguish over a public fall from grace quite consciously. In a way, he willingly remains a cog in the wheel of the Puritan machinery while subconsciously resenting the fact of his bondage. The author's treatment of Chillingworth is perhaps the most paradoxical. He is cast in the role of the Biblical snake, a decrepit looking man of intellect, but shown to be a strangely sympathetic cuckold at the same time who refrains from slut-shaming Hester and goes as far as admitting to his own failings as a husband, an astonishing and laudable character trait. I am not sure what was the point of linking natural intelligence with evil though.

But let us decontextualize first. Because what good would it do to pan the tyranny of the Puritanical worldview in this day and age? And haven't re-envisioned Biblical scenarios already lost their sheen?
Let us take the scarlet letter instead - the incriminating 'A', a mark of woman's ultimate disgrace that Hester bears like a badge of honour in the last stretch, perhaps, having appropriated its connotative worth as a social censure and transmuted it into a part of her identity. Undoubtedly it is the most interesting thing about the novel, because the very weapon of social ostracism wielded against Hester contributes towards her maturation as a character and unwittingly bestows on her the capacity for unfettered thought and freedom of movement. By cementing her status as an outsider, it accords her the unique opportunity of spotting the limitations of a community imprisoned by its own conservatism and aids the process of her liberation and education.

It might be a stretch to call the letter a symbol for female emancipation but the text is my guide and the author is dead (in the Barthesian sense) so I'll draw my own conclusions.
Sample one of her observations as evidence -
"Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting even to the happiest among them?"

My biggest quibble with the book is its insistence on viewing Dimmesdale as a co-equal sufferer as Hester, victim of his own mounting contrition and Chillingworth's insidious revenge. As if Dimmesdale suffers as much as the woman banished to the very margins of society wherein she is forced to raise a child on her own and endure the objectifying gaze of men and women silently pillorying her existence. It seems only Pearl, often referred to as a 'demon offspring', a living embodiment of the repudiation of all doctrinal dogma, is quick to identify her father's moral hypocrisy -
"What a strange, sad man is he!" said the child, as if speaking partly to herself. "In the dark nighttime he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder! And in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on a heap of moss! And he kisses my forehead, too, so that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But, here, in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart!"

Even the denouement is fashioned with the sole purpose of salvaging Dimmesdale's lost self esteem and paving the way for his atonement. His guilt-ridden conscience is the center of his universe, not the welfare of the woman he abandons to a fate of enduring countless indignities. And his decision to go out in a blaze of pseudo-heroic glory by finally confessing to his 'sin' publicly is further evidence of his self-serving nature. If anything it proves to be his second act of traitorous desertion of Hester, in which he cruelly stamps out her last hope of beginning a new life elsewhere with the father of her child.
Thus, I'd remember him as a representative figure of the Puritan moral machinery which flounders in its attempts to maintain its infallibility in the face of sobering reality.

Further, the elevation of Hester to a Christ-like symbol of suffering and self-sacrifice who graduates beyond the confines of the world of flesh to attain a near-mythical status is deeply problematic. It vitiates the fact of her growth as a woman of independent means whose very presence, albeit in the fringes of society, serves as an existential threat to the patriarchal Puritan set-up.

The omniscient narrator's interjections serve as additional irritants especially because he feels like he has to expatiate on the symbolism of the letter, Chillingworth and Pearl time and again for the sake of the reader's benefit. We get it, Mr Hawthorne. You like insulting the reader's intelligence. Lastly, since the narrative mostly develops around the tension between conflicting ideologies it becomes a bit too involved with its own didacticism, often reducing its characters to mere stiff mouthpieces or symbols. It fails to create any dramatic suspense. As a result there's very little pleasure to be derived from reading.

Tl;dr, this is probably not a feminist novel. But of all the things that stand out for me, the author's indirect indictment of slut-shaming remains the foremost. For obvious reasons. Also, Chillingworth over Dimmesdale any day.
Profile Image for F.
294 reviews251 followers
September 20, 2018
The writing took a while to get used to. The story itself was good, just wish it was a bit more modern.
Far too much description.
Profile Image for Calista.
3,869 reviews31.2k followers
December 21, 2020
Another School book

Updated. I did read this in school, but I was one of the kids who enjoyed the book. Hester is one of the first stories about a real outcast from her society. She had to be strong and pay the price for her partner as well. I think this is a great story about a strict society and how they don't work. People are different and life happens and we have to be able to allow for mistakes and variations.

The world we live in is about variation. There isn't one type of ant or beetle, but like 30 thousand variations. There isn't simply an oak or maple, but many variations on the oak. The world loves differences as we see all around us. Some reason, society usually tries to put rules in place for people to make us all the same and we aren't all the same. I think I read this in 10th grade and it sort of opened my eyes to the different types of stories out there. I was not an advanced reader as a child, so this was eye-opening. I actually enjoyed most of the stories we read in school, accept for Hemingway and Steinbeck. I didn't care for any of their stuff, but I always enjoyed the discussion.

That's why I loved English, I loved discussing the stories with people about what was going on. Hester lived in some hard times. They are roots in America that are still around and part of what has our country so divided. Anyway, I think this is a great story and I should re-read it now that I understand more and have more life experience.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
October 13, 2017
I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and enjoyed it. I have also seen the film a few years ago with Demi Moore, meh.

What still draws me to this book, and to the subject as a whole, was Hester's overwhelming self confidence. Her stance, and how can it be anything else, is one of courage and tenacity.

I understand also that her penance could be so sincere as to name her child Scarlet and dress her always in red, but the quality of the dresses and the simple pride with which she stands is still inspirational.

December 15, 2022
4 shameful but courageous stars and a touching story of one woman’s determination to turn fate and fortunes in her favour in the face of poverty having been abandoned, first by her husband, and then the father of her child as she was left to endure the punishment alone.

Hester Prynnes, is standing on a scaffold facing an unsympathetic and puritan crowd, who have branded her an adulteress for having given birth to a child outside her marriage. As she looks through the crowd, her eyes lock on the man she once called her husband. He has not come to help her; he has disowned her – but long ago.

Refusing to provide the name of the father, Hester is forced to stand in public for weeks and wears the letter A on her chest as a constant reminder of her crime and disgrace. From that day forward, every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those she came into contact with was a constant reminder of a society she did not belong to it. A reminder of the love lost from cowardice, as she faced her shame alone.

Needing to feed her child, she turned to her talent of needlecraft and made gowns, coats and adornments for the wealthy in an opulent society where image was everything. For Hester “.. learnt not to do battle with the world but learnt to be a woman in it”.

The Scarlet Letter A, that Hester wore as punishment and with shame in the face of public ridicule became a badge of courage and survival. Ironically because Hester’s reputation was already destroyed there were no boundaries in which she could take her business. The wealthy were able to transact in private to feed their vanity. Even the disreputable were not off limits.

A powerful story and quite daring for its time because it dealt with many themes that would have raised eyebrows; adultery, sin, religion, and redemption in an unforgiving puritan society.

The Scarlet letter was described as a romance novel, however we never read of the affair, or the relationship that led to the turn of fate for Hester. There is no talk of love, except for two episodes with Hester and the father when it is revealed he has lived in quiet punishment that he did not stand beside her. Hardly a love story.

Yet a story of courage that was to exploit hypocrisy and indecency of a different kind, which makes this both a tragedy and a triumph.

A timeless classic.
Profile Image for Renato.
36 reviews142 followers
November 26, 2015
Let me start my review by stating that I'm guilty and should wear a big "P" (for "preoccupied") on my chest. I mentioned in a previous review that I was worried that if I wasn't in the right state of mind and in an adequate setting, I wouldn't be able to enjoy Dickens's Great Expectations - turned out it wasn't the case. I never expected that for The Scarlet Letter, but this might be one of the reasons I didn't enjoy the book that much and rated it 3 stars: I was in the middle of preparations to move in to a new place and had tons of decisions to make and wanted to solve everything as soon as possible. So, maybe this is the type of book that you need to get into a proper mood and mind state to really enjoy - as it has such a different and unique atmosphere. To be completely fair though, I started The Odyssey around the same time and had no trouble concentrating and isolating life's questions while I was reading all about Ulysses.

That isn't to say I didn't enjoy - or couldn't recognize - particular positive aspects of this book: it's a very interesting study of how people with their morals can be impacted by sin and guilt - especially when in a very puritan society. The scenes where Hester and Arthur meet in the woods and are finally alone are beautifully written and we finally get to see a glimpse of the love that put them in severe penitence.

Speaking of that, I simply can't wrap my head around the fact that Hester - a married woman, whose husband is long gone, is sentenced to wear the letter "A" (stands for "adultery") sewn to her clothes, on her bosom, to be publicly and constantly humiliated - didn't simply decide to leave New England for good with her daughter. It doesn't make sense to me that she would agree to such a thing and raise her daughter in that unsound - to say the least! - environment.

The highlight for me is centered around Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's inner conflict: it's greatly enticing to witness how a secret - and the guilt that revolved it - so well hidden would inflict on a physical wound. Not to mention the religion vs. sin debacle: the fact that Arthur was so strongly devoted to his god and his principles that a spiritual disease would eventually lead to serious consequences and turn out to be his demise is - simply put - a very rich topic to write and think about.

In the book's conclusion, we learn that Hester, after being away for some time - which, again, is what she should've done since the opening scene - is back and wearing the scarlet letter on her bosom again:

"But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne, here, in New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed--of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed it--resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never afterwards did it quit her bosom."

Although I can admire the author's beautiful words, I still can't understand or relate to Hester's reasons. I can't help but wish that Hawthorne had put Hester Pryne under the same lights James used while painting Isabel Archer’s portrait.

Rating: 3 stars.
July 25, 2019
“I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am!

One of the most well-known american classics of all time, The Scarlet Letter is a story of sin, shame and punishment; and of the contrast between the redemption of the individual and the damnation of society. The story of Esther Prynne, whose puritan community forced to wear a scarlet A letter on her bosom to signify the sin of adultery she committed, is narrated using the trope of the found manuscript, in which the mystery of the life and sufferings of the young woman unravel, spiraling until the final drama.

This novel was the first of Hawthorne's ampler productions (he previously published lesser known and somewhat inferior works), and even though the author's tone when referring to himself in the text is sometimes of false modesty (which is, incidentally, one of my pet-peeves), it is easy to notice that the artist didn't seem to realize the real magnitude of his work at the time. This book, which was destined to become one of those books every student has to study and analyze, willing or not, during his/her high school years; is based on plausible, if not accurate, historical events (the punishment of the scarlet letter is known to have actually occurred). Nonetheless, it serves only as a pretext for the author to create a symbol around which to build a metaphor for a society based on judgement, self-righteousness, bigotry, hypocrisy and scapegoating.

A lot has been written about this book, and it seems pointless here to add my comments on it, I can only express a personal distaste for the author's writing style (who appears to have a tendency to overwrite, even considered the fashion of the time and the relative shortness of the novel) and a sense of closeness I feel for Esther's character, which I attribute to the ability of the writer to create a character who's so easy to empathize with, and whose struggle appears to be so universal that it traveled among space and time until the present days.

Instead, I was wandering: is it still worth to study this book today and have our students read it (and presumably not understanding it and thus developing a hate that often stays until adulthood)? In my opinion, this book can feel very contemporary (is cyber bullying that much of a different form of public shaming than a scarlet letter on a woman's bosom?), but only in the mind of an adult. It may feel, due to its style and somewhat obsolescence, so far from the sensitivity of a young person, that the message in it would likely not be received. It would be much better, instead, to talk to them about it and explain it in a more explicit way, leaving them the freedom to choose to read the original text once they are grown up enough to appreciate it. In other words, this classic made history, but, unlike other, more contemporary-appealing novels of the time (e.g. Dracula, The Turn of the Screw, or even Flatland), it is not easily appreciated by today's teens. A fundamental read (or re-read) for an adult though.
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