Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

the scarlet letter
nathaniel hawthorne
c. 1850
166 pages
completed 11/15/2009

read for: comp lit 211, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books, penguin classics

*may contain spoilers*

Hester Prynne, a woman living in Puritan Boston, is sentenced to live out her life with a scarlet "A" emblazoned on her dress after she bears a child out of wedlock. For the next seven years, she tries to devote her life to her child, Pearl, but her life is inevitable intertwined with the lives of two men from her past, Roger Chillingsworth and Arthur Dimmesdale. One man is destroyed by guilt and the other consumed by a relentless pursuit of revenge until finally all their secrets are revealed.

I had to read this for the first time in eleventh grade English (back in 2002) and now have to read it again for my Comparative Literature class. Now, normally I don't review books I've read before. I don't really see the point. However, if I'm being honest (and Dad, this is about where you should stop reading this sentence), I didn't actually read this in eleventh grade. I maybe made it through four chapters. Sorry, Mrs. Davies, I kind of faked my essay. But I have turned over a new leaf what with going back to school this year, so I am actually finishing all the books I'm assigned. Which is impressive for me. But onto the Scarlet Letter...

I have to say, I am not a fan. Apparently Nathaniel Hawthorne originally meant for this to be a short story and then someone else suggested he make it into a full novel. I feel this someone else gave Hawthorne some bad advice. This story could have been told in probably half the amount of pages Hawthorne took to tell it, and possibly then it would have been more entertaining for me. As it is, I kind had to slog through it. There's too much back and forth between action and reflection for me. I felt like every other chapter progressed the story and then the chapters in between were reflections on what just happened or what was about to happen. And sometimes Hawthorne would skip an action chapter, which by themselves weren't bad, and there would be chapter after chapter of reflection and character study. So for me, this was kind of a dull read.

I will say, they last two chapters picked up a little bit. I really enjoyed the final interactions between Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale; I felt there was finally some emotion expressed other than oppressive guilt. And I enjoyed the slightly ambiguous wrap up of Pearl and Hester's stories. But overall I will definitely be glad to be done with this book in class and moving on to the next book.


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