Welcome to the wrap-up for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter! As usual, spoilers are fair game here and in the comments.
(By the way, if you haven’t voted for February’s read, be sure to do so via the poll in the sidebar!)
The good news is that, upon rereading, I didn’t hate this particular classic the way I did when I read it in high school. The bad news is that it won’t be turning up on any of my favorite classics lists. Once I got used to Hawthorne’s style, I felt the book went pretty quickly, and it seemed a lot shorter than it did my first time through!
First I must point out that, as Jillian kindly brought to my attention, “The Custom-House,” which I talked about in my discussion post, is apparently not actually supposed to be true. Between the intro of my edition and the footnotes, I was thoroughly fooled into thinking otherwise. I apologize for misleading you. Personally, I’m rather disappointed to find the backstory of the scarlet letter as an object was made up!
Two related things struck me on this second pass through The Scarlet Letter. First, it’s such an interior novel! There’s not much in the way of action, but there’s plenty of character analysis and the like. I think this leads to a lack of dialogue but plenty of straight narration, which for me inserts a sort of distance between reader and story. At the same time, I can see why this book gets chosen for school reading, even if it may not grab every kid’s attention: the themes and symbols are pretty hard to miss! I felt like I could have written any number of essays upon reading the final page.
I must admit, one line in particular made me giggle out loud. It’s on page 92 in my edition, a couple of pages into Chapter 7, “The Governor’s Hall,” and reads thusly:
“As the two wayfarers [Hester and Pearl] came within the precincts of the town, the children of the Puritans looked up from their play, — or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins, — and spake gravely to one another: —
“‘Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefor, and let us fling mud at them!'”
Try as I might, I just couldn’t picture little kids talking like that!
On a more serious note, my edition includes a reading group guide, and one of its questions struck me as particularly interesting. It asks:
“Critics have sometimes disagreed about whether Hawthorne condones or condemns the adultery of Hester and Dimmesdale in the novel. Can either view be supported? Which do you feel is the case?”
I’m curious: do you have any thoughts either way? I’m still turning the question over in my mind.
What did you think of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne? Also, if you posted about the book on your own blog, please feel free to leave a link in the comments!