First impressions: The Scarlet Letter is often in highly ranked in the list for being one of the most well-known American classics of all-time. Even those who have not read The Scarlet Letter often have an idea of its plotline (a young woman being forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” as a punishment for adultery).
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a dark tale about a young woman named Hester Prynne who is condemned by her village for having a child with another man. She is forced to wear a Scarlet Letter “A” on her clothing – signifying “adulteress.” As Hester raises her daughter Pearl, she is shunned by the puritanical society who cannot see past the scarlet letter on Hester’s clothing.
About the Book
Title: The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Year Published: 1850
Genres: classic, historical fiction, romance
Like Little Women, I was assigned to read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne for my 19th century American Literature class. Before reading the book, there are many obvious references to The Scarlet Letter in popular culture. Recently, I saw a commercial that recreated a puritanical village to parody The Scarlet Letter.
And yes, the objective of that commercial was to sell Miracle Whip.
There is also a movie called Easy A which is a modern take on The Scarlet Letter where a rumor ruins a teenage girl’s reputation.
The Scarlet Letter is a rather dark and nearly tragic tale of a young woman who cannot escape the mistakes of her past. This book was published in 1850 and it received a lot of harsh criticism and public outrage. To this day, The Scarlet Letter is often listed as a banned book in the United States, but it is also one of the most widely taught novel in American high schools. I believe the novel remains as one of the most popular American novels because it questions the nature of forgiveness.
The novel is not very long, (roughly 230 pages), but it is a difficult read because of Hawthorne’s distinct writing style. Hawthorne tends to embellish his text with figurative language which often (for me) detracts from understanding the plot. However, the result of the sometimes overly written descriptions adds to the foreignness of the setting. Though I would argue that Hawthorne’s style is what makes the book unique, and without it, the story wouldn’t have had as great of an impact on readers.
An example of a convoluted (yet genius) paragraph from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter:
It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object” – The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Overall, I believe that this book has a special place in American literature. I am very glad that I had the opportunity to study this novel in depth and appreciate Hawthorne’s gift of language, and his unique storyline which has evolved into popular culture.
Final Grade: A
Until next time,