Review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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RATING: ★★★

A single sinful act ruins the lives of three people. Hester Prynne, a young, beautiful and dignified woman who conceived a child out of wedlock and received the public punishment of having to always wear a scarlet “A” on her clothing is now facing the societal consequences. This is a story that is set in seventeenth century Massachusetts in a Puritanical society, exploring morals, guilt and sin.

The Scarlet Letter is a very interesting study of how people with their morals can be impacted by sin and guilt. It explores Religion vs. sin and forces the mind to deliberate upon human nature and upon the extent to which societal beliefs impact the choices made by an individual.

Yet, outside of the intentions of the author to mock the hypocrisy of a so-called Puritan society, the protagonist lacks depth and the plot lacks action.

Nothing really happens.

Hester’s character wasn’t explored to the same depth as the other characters. We had little idea about how she felt about being adjudged as an adulterous woman or why she decided to stay back in the same place. I can’t understand or relate to her reasons for staying in the society rather than just leaving. Which, although in the end she does, she still returns. It makes no sense to me. Though she is presented as an admirably strong woman who walks with her head high and adorns her child, she lacks development and foresight.

However, this is explored in other characters. Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester’s lover who remains safely unidentified but wracked with guilt was an interesting character. Arthur is so strongly devoted to his gold and his principles that a spiritual disease such as adultery leads to serious consequences and his demise is a very rich topic to both read and think about. The enticing nature of his inner conflict was one of few moments during this book that I was interested.

There’s also Hester’s daughter, Pearl. She’s sensitive, impulsive, instinctive and seemed to possess more clarity that her mother. There are moments when Hawthorne is a bit too overt with his ‘this child is connected to the devil’ imagery but you can easily find yourself ignoring that.

There are times when the writing of this novel is amateur at best. We get it, the symbols of guilt, sin, the devil are so obvious it puts you off reading. But at the same time, the scene where Hester and Arthur meet in the woods and are finally alone is beautifully written and we finally get a glimpse of the live that put them in severe penitence.

The Scarlet Letter is interesting and I am glad I read it but overall, I didn’t care for it much.