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The Scarlet Letter: 01/21/09

I first read The Scarlet Letter back in high school. It and "Young Goodman Brown" are the two pieces most often used to teach Nathaniel Hawthorne but they are the most different from his other works. The different ones, or maybe better put, the ones that stand out, seem to be the ones taught. The standouts are often the experiments and therefore the more challenging to read.

By the time I read The Scarlet Letter I was already a Hawthorne fan so I went into the novel determined to like it. Were it the first of his books I had read, I might not have gone back for more. I don't want to scare you off the novel if you haven't read it. Rather, I want to encourage you to use it as a starting point for his other novels.

Much of the analysis of the novel focuses on Hester Prynne and her crime (adultery) and her life of redemption and the punishment both of jail time and of wearing the scarlet letter as a reminder of her crime. I personally find her daughter, Pearl Prynne the most compelling character of the novel. Pearl is born a marked child, a living remember of Hester's crime and the minister's sin. She spends her infancy in jail and her childhood alone except for the company of her mother. She can overhear the other villagers debating whether or not she is a demon child and whether or not she should be removed from her mother's care. She's ultimately not removed from her mother's care because none of the other families wants to risk having her in their homes.

As Hawthorne ends the novel not with a note on Hester's fate but on Pearl's instead clearly the book is more about Pearl, the innocent victim of Puritan society's meddling in private matters.


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Comment #1: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 16:57:15

Sarah M.

I read this book last January. I had always been afraid of Hawthorne, that his books would be too dry and wordy. The Scarlet Letter was introduction to Hawthorne and I agree with you, it's a good starting point for his other novels. From TSL I went on to read The House of Seven Gables, which I really enjoyed. Hawthorne's works may be required in school for some, but overall I think they are forgotten classics.

Comment #2: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 14:28:51


If Hawthorne is taught, then it's usually "Young Goodman Brown" or The Scarlet Letter and maybe House of the Seven Gables. The rest of his books and stories seem to have been forgotten. I would love to see The Marble Faun adapted into a film.

Comment #3: Saturday, January, 24, 2009 at 19:03:54


I have never even been tempted to read this novel. Visiting The House of Seven Gables and Hawthorne's birhtplace in Salem and his home in Concord are probably as close as I'll ever get to him.

Comment #4: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 20:57:45


If you ever do decide to try reading some Hawthorne, I recommend you try his short stories or The Marble Faun because it reads very much like a modern novel. It's not like his wordier Gothic romances.

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