The Scarlet Letter

I picked this book up for the 2012 Back to the Classics Challenge and I’m applying this book for #3 of the challenge, reread a classic of your choice.  The first time I read this book was back in 2001 for my English 11 class in high school.  I remember enjoying the book then, and I thought it would be interesting to read the book again.  Anyway, on with the review.

One side note, this review will have plenty of spoilers, but the book was originally written in 1850, there is a statute of limitations on book reviews, so there’s really no excuse for me to try and avoid them for this book.

Book Stats

269 pages

Classic

Characters

There are three characters that really matter to this book, and everyone else in superfluous to the overall story.  The first character is Hester Prynne, the woman who is required to wear The Scarlet Letter for committing the sin of adultery.  The second character who is central to the story is Arthur Dimmesdale, a minister in the town of Boston and the father of Hester’s child, although the townspeople don’t know that he is the father.  The last character is Roger Chillingworth, who is actually Hester’s husband from England and hides his true identity from the people of Boston.  The way the book is written, I didn’t really think that any of the characters came across as incredibly deep.  But we’ll get into that more later.

Setting

17th century Boston

Plot

The book begins with Hester receiving The Scarlet Letter, and from there the book follows the three main characters over the course of the next 7 years.  The central point of the plot is watching as Hester and Arthur deal with the consequences of their actions.

Enjoyment

There is a lot going on in this book.  Although it isn’t expressly said very early in the book, it is heavily hinted at from the early chapters that Dimmesdale is the father of Hester’s daughter Pearl.  One of the things that I really enjoyed throughout the course of this book was the dichotomy between Hester and Arthur.  Hester is outwardly shunned, while Dimmesdale is praised.  Hester is by all standards very content with everything in her life, while Dimmesdale continuously punishes himself throughout the novel because he thinks that he needs the punishment that the townspeople refuse to give him.  All in all, the story was very well told and I enjoyed following the story.

However, while the story of the book is excellent, the writing is very dated.  There were large sections, entire chapters at times where there was nothing but description about the scenery.  In these (frequent) chapters absolutely nothing happened, and I have to think that if an editor were to get this book today they would have the author cut about 1/3 of the novel.

Overall Grade

The writing is dated, but the story is very good and there are a lot of interesting themes running through the novel.

7/10

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11 Comments

  1. I haven’t read it since school, I wasn’t such a fan then. But I also never really got into required texts even if I read them before or after on my own volition.

    Reply
    • I’ve thought a lot about the required reading we’re required to do in school, and in almost every instance, you’re going to enjoy any book more if you chose to read it, as opposed to having to read a particular book for a class. I remember enjoying the book in high school, despite the fact that this is absolutely not the book that a teenage guy would typically enjoy (I think I was 16 when I read this book in school). In that same class my teacher had us read A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which is another book that I really enjoyed reading and have purchased and read again outside of school.

      Reply
  2. I agree that the story is good, but I didn’t enjoy the writing as much. I prefer his novel, The House of the Seven Gables.

    Reply
    • It’s the only book by Hawthorne that I’ve ever read, so I’ll have to consider reading another of his books someday.

      Reply
  3. It’s not so much that the writing is dated as it is that Nathaniel Hawthorne likes to ramble a bit. Haha! (Although yes, it is 19th century writing.) Whenever I read THE SCARLET LETTER, I read it for the story and not Hawthorne’s writing style. You might want to check out WHEN SHE WOKE by Hillary Jordan–it’s a modern take on this story (speculative fiction) and it’s quite good.

    Reply
    • I haven’t read too many books recently from that time period, so I’d have to read more to really measure if it the writing of the time or if it’s Hawthorne.

      Reply
  4. There are certain classics I managed to avoid through HS and the rest of life. This is one of them, and your review, though excellent, confirms my opinion that I’m not going to worry about it.

    Reply
    • The only reason I re-read the book was for the Back to the Classics Challenge I signed up for. Otherwise I would have given it a wide miss.

      Reply
  5. I read this for the first time late last year, and I’m not going to lie – it was tough. I liked the story, but Hawthorne loves to ramble on and on and it just gets hard to take. I couldn’t finish The House of Seven Gables for this reason. I’m glad you made it through though!

    Reply
  6. It’s been quite a few years since I read this but I remember thinking that it had aged well.

    Reply

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