The Scarlet Letter: Review

Thanks to my daughters, I’m reading a lot of classics these past few years. They read a classic, tell me it’s good, and then I read it. Today’s classic is The Scarlet Letter.

Preconceived Notions

I have to say that The Scarlet Letter was a little different from what I’d had in mind. I knew the basic idea, about the woman having a baby out of wedlock and then having to wear a big “A.” But I was thinking the book would be all about her meeting the father and their secret rendezvous, etc. No, the book actually opens with Hester (carrying baby Pearl) being put in the stocks after being let out of prison for her transgression. We do indeed learn about the father’s identity, but the details about how they met or what led to Pearl’s existence are never explored or really even hinted at. No, the book covers the seven years beginning after Pearl is already born.

I can’t say a lot about the book without giving away some things you’d rather find out by reading it. I enjoyed the symbolism of some of the names: Roger Chillingworth, Arthur Dimmesdale. Of course there was the outrage from seeing the awful way Hester was treated for her sin, but the way the father was never even identified or sought to pay for his actions. But it was also interesting to see just how much society has changed. Would sex outside of marriage result in such shame these days? Of course not. Imagine all the people who would be walking around with elaborately-embroidered “A”‘s on their chests! The questions at the end of the book state, “in The Scarlet Letter adultery is not trivial; from the puritan point of view, it is a sin that shakes the universe. Has life been diminished by the loss of that point of view? Or would holding on to that point of view have been otherwise too costly?” Interesting.

The Custom-House

The first 35 pages of the book are called The Custom House. My daughter recommended I skip it, and I did, although I skimmed through it after reading the book. The book really would be a lot more accessible without this part, and I wish it had been left out. There were lots of horrendously-long sentences like this: “The man — who had a beard the white, white color of the ocean waves as they caressed the water with their trippingly light schools of fish and other marine creatures long forgotten by the likes of the villagers in the nearby town of a few dozen, known only to those who history had deemed worthy of residing in such an idyllic place — looked to his left.” Okay, I made that up, but it’s quite representative. I learned, when I saw a dash, to simply skip over everything between the dashes, and was able in that manner to (barely) make it through. Eesh.

Overall, The Scarlet Letter had a lot of suspense (mainly in the last third of the book) and explored many moral issues that I found very thought-provoking. Recommended.

5 thoughts on “The Scarlet Letter: Review

  1. I like to read or re-read a classic from time to time. I enjoyed your review of this one.

  2. I’ve never read this book. I’m not sure I would enjoy it. I may try it.

  3. The man can still get away with walking off and never looking back though. Happens every day. I read this in high school–it was very, very good. Nice review.

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