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Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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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!

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneFirst 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!

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  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    That quote from the children just cracked me up! I don’t think that children have EVER talked like that, no matter what time period it was! I still need to read this one when I can, but knowing that the language is so obtuse makes me a little less than thrilled about starting this one soon!

    Happy New Year!!

  • http://jillianreadsbooks2.wordpress.com/ Jillian

    I feel much closer to a story that is filled with internal narration, than one that is mostly action an dialogue. How interesting: I wonder what makes you and I view the two oppositely?

    Ha ha – that line about flinging mud made me giggle when I read it, too. :)

    I’m not sure what to think about Hawthorne’s stance on the adultery. I (think) he was more intent on presenting the situation than on judging it right or wrong. Sort of like Transcendentalism: he was himself affiliated with the Transcendentalists, but in his work, he seems to question its beliefs without ever actually (in my opinion) fully contradicting them. He makes Hester Prynne an individual with an enlightened “transcended” mind, and Dimmesdale is penalized for following crowd rather than self. Yet he shows (I believe) that people are naturally dark, not light, as Transcendentalists espoused, thereby questioning its foundation as a philosophy.

    In my opinion, Hawthorne was an early proponent in writing a story from all angles — allowing the reader to develop an informed conclusion. I think he handled adultery in The Scarlet Letter with this in mind.

  • http://reviews.rebeccareid.com Rebecca Reid

    What Jillian said about the adultery. Hawthorne’s “point” is much more muddy than black and white. He’s giving the reader lots to ponder.

    I really enjoyed my recent reread of this novel, much more than I liked it in high school. One of the most rewarding rereads of last year. But I can understand if the internal, pondering tone of the novel wasn’t your type of thing.