By Nathaniel Hawthorne
First published in 1850
Completed March 1, 2013
America’s first psychological novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a dark tale of love, crime, and revenge set in colonial New England. It revolves around a single, forbidden act of passion that forever alters the lives of three members of a small Puritan community: Hester Prynne, an ardent and fierce woman who bears the punishment of her sin in humble silence; the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a respected public figure who is inwardly tormented by long-hidden guilt; and the malevolent Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband—a man who seethes with an Ahab-like lust for vengeance. The landscape of this classic novel is uniquely American, but the themes it explores are universal—the nature of sin, guilt, and penitence, the clash between our private and public selves, and the spiritual and psychological cost of living outside society. Constructed with the elegance of a Greek tragedy, The Scarlet Letter brilliantly illuminates the truth that lies deep within the human heart.
It is hard to say that you enjoyed this story. I felt many things in the first few pages. disgust with Hester, anger at a community that is so very self-righteous, complete dislike for Hester’s husband Roger Chillingworth, whom nobody knows is among them, and disappointment at Rev. Dimmesdale for allowing Hester to go through all she did alone!
Hester Prynne who was in a loveless marriage, and for what anyone knows her husband could be dead, has an adulteress relationship resulting in pregnancy. This is one sin that could not be covered up. Hester had her baby more than 9 months arriving to New England. Thus the harsh sentence of what appeared short jail time and then the wearing of the red-letter “A” on her breast. I was thinking that if this were still implemented today there would be a lot of “A’s” walking around. Alas our culture has changed so much this is no longer a sin worthy of shunning. Hester shares her punishment with no one. She refuses to name the father of her baby, Pearl.
Rev. Dimmesdale, the father of Pearl, suffers greatly in silence. Nobody ever thinks he is suffering from the conviction of his sins. He is just a HOLY man who is destined to be with the Lord at a young age. Hester’s husband appears on the scene and swears Hester to secrecy. He becomes known as a physician and begins to care for the Reverend Dimmesdale. All the while he is very certain that the Reverend is the culprit.
Hester and Rev. Dimmesdale meet in the forest where Hester hashes out a plan to take flight from this town. She secures passage for three on a Spanish ship and they are set to leave. Some how Roger Chillingworth figures out the plan and secures passage for himself as well. The ship captain makes this news known to Hester. But before anything can be done Dimmesdale makes a public announcements of sorts that he is the father of Little Pearl. Then he collapses and dies.
Hester and Pearl disappear from New England for some time. Pearl inherits a good portion from Roger Chillingworth and is never seen again. Hester makes her return to the cottage by the shore, wearing her Scarlet Letter. There she spends the remainder of her days and is buried next to Reverend Dimmesdale.
I am glad that I have read The Scarlet Letter. It wasn’t something cheerful but it is a legend of New England. It was some what captivating. I was anxious the entire time the Roger Chillingworth would do something terribly evil. But he did not. Once Rev. Dimmesdale dies Roger looses his hunger for revenge. Nathaniel Hawthorne is a ver good writer which to me means that they keep my interest and don’t put me to sleep with many different bunny trails.