Monday, January 21, 2013

Classics: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

In Puritan society, moral code is at a high standard. The guilt, shame, and even humiliation is bound to burden whoever dares to sin during this time period, whether it's their own conscience eating at their souls or the harsh stares of fellow community members. So when Hester Prynne is impregnated as a result of adultery, her punishment is to always wear a red "A" stitched onto all of her clothing. Anyone who sees her will be reminded of what she's done, and of course, Hester will also be reminded of her circumstance, which is a bit more complicated than it may initially seem.

Facing motherhood and the scorn of the town on her own, Hester must find a way to survive it all, to remain strong as she lives through her punishment.

The Scarlet Letter seems to have as many fans as haters, and it's easy to see why. On one hand, the writing is ramblesome and suffers from overly-detailed sections that include unneeded description and very little plot. The writing isn't typical of the time period it was actually scribed in (the 19th century, which is stylistically my favorite period in writing) since Hawthorne wanted to keep it more Puritan, and therefore more relevent to the storyline. But on the other hand, it's just a great story with well-defined characters (that didn't need an entire chapter each devoted to describing their individual personalities and other things related to them) and themes that made me think.

Despite the historical setting that may seen anything but normal, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter displays heroism in a more ordinary way with Hester Prynne's tale. One doesn't need to fight in physical battle to be considered a heroine or hero, but to just overcome some sort of obstacle, whether it happens overnight or it takes years. This is what first attracted me to the book as I began reading the first few chapters. Hester didn't want to be owned by sin or by the town's opinions. She wanted to be strong.

But her personality never stopped me from feeling sorry for her, because even though she held her head up in town, she often felt lonely and miserable. Her marraige should've never happened in the first place, she feared that her child would reflect unholy sin in her personality, and it was impossible to be with the father of her child without revealing his identity.

Mr. Dimmesdale also kept my interest and sympathy throughout this little novel, while Pearl's strangeness kept me smiling. Sure, she was unruly, but it was funny. She was the sunshine in The Scarlet Letter as a whole, much like she was the sunshine of Hester's life, which had unfortunately turned so bleak. That concept sums up this book quite well: Generally unhappy, but the little sparks of hope really stand out in contrast.

All things considered, The Scarlet Letter isn't exactly a favorite of mine, but I did like it; it tugged at my heart strings a little bit. It just could have been better if Hawthorne focused on plot development more than over-explaining. But, if he was more overly-descriptive of what these characters were feeling in an emotional time... Then, I'd have little to no room to complain.

Even so, it's really no wonder it's a classic.


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  2. Funny that Pearl makes you smile. I have always thought of her as more of a demon child. :)