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America’s first psychological novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a dark tale of love, crime, and revenge set in colonial New England. It revolves around a single, forbidden act of passion that forever alters the lives of three members of a small Puritan community: Hester Prynne, an ardent and fierce woman who bears the punishment of her sin in humble silence; the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, a respected public figure who is inwardly tormented by long-hidden guilt; and the malevolent Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband—a man who seethes with an Ahab-like lust for vengeance.
The landscape of this classic novel is uniquely American, but the themes it explores are universal—the nature of sin, guilt, and penitence, the clash between our private and public selves, and the spiritual and psychological cost of living outside society. Constructed with the elegance of a Greek tragedy, The Scarlet Letter brilliantly illuminates the truth that lies deep within the human heart.
Nancy Stade is trained as a lawyer and has worked in the federal government and the private sector. She currently lives in Mexico, where she is working on a novel.
Although the mark of Hester's crime is stitched in red across her breast, emblazoned in stigmata across the breast of her lover, and broadcast across the sky, Hawthorne never names her crime in The Scarlet Letter. The novel's title alludes to, but does not reveal, the letter A, which itself suggests, but does not divulge, the crime of adultery. By the time Roger Chillingworth, concealing his relationship to Hester when he wanders into the crowd during her exposure, inquires of a spectator "wherefore is she here set up to public shame," the two symbols of Hester's crime-The Scarlet Letter A and the baby Pearl-have all but revealed its nature. But The Scarlet Letter remains the fullest articulation of the crime, for Roger Chillingworth interrupts before the spectator has done more than insinuate the transgression that gives rise to the spectacle of public shame.
If The Scarlet Letter evokes Hester's crime without naming it, the novel tells almost nothing about Hester and Dimmesdale's affair. During the reverie that briefly distracts her from the hideous spectacle of which she is the center, Hester recalls in sequence her childhood home, her father and mother, her own youthful likeness, and the early days of her marriage, but in her remembrance she skips over the time from her adulterous encounter with Dimmesdale to her present circumstance, as she stands at the pillory. Possibly Hester and Dimmesdale consorted with initially innocent intentions after one of his sermons, although it is difficult to imagine Hester, even before her fall, as so devoted to Bible studies that she would seek or elicit her minister's private tutelage. Nothing in the novel, apart from what the reader can glean from the natures of Hester and Dimmesdale, permits the inference that the couple had an enduring affair, although nothing contradicts this possibility, either. But by the time the novel opens, and even more so by its close seven years later, the characters are so transformed that the reader can hardly draw informed conclusions about their earlier selves. Despite the novel's frequent references to Dimmesdale's repressed passion, a sexual encounter between Hester and him seems as remote from the events described in the novel as the Puritan penal system is from contemporary mores. In Studies in Classic American Literature (see "For Further Reading"), D. H. Lawrence assumed that Hester seduced Dimmesdale, an explanation that renders the act of adultery more plausible, but not any easier to imagine. Depriving his readers of the means of imagining the event that triggers Dimmesdale's unraveling, Chillingworth's vendetta, Pearl's birth, and Hester's disgrace seems to be a deliberate part of Hawthorne's artistic design.
The crime that gives the novel its name and preoccupies all of the characters, then, is shrouded as much by the symbolism that overshadows the thing symbolized as by the shame of the characters. Without an account of the criminal act, readers of The Scarlet Letter apprehend Hester's crime through the refracted light of multiple moral perspectives. In that he is Hester's creator, Hawthorne's view of Hester's crime is at least interesting, if not determinative of how readers of his day, or of ours, should respond. The narrator and the Puritan community both overtly pass judgment on Hester's act, although the former vacillates in the harshness with which he judges her. In addition, each of the three important adult characters-Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, and Hester Prynne-present a particular response to Hester's adultery that may inform our own. The fourth important character, Pearl, though a child and only intuitively aware of the crime, offers an additional perspective as well as a real challenge to a response of unmediated censure, for if the Puritans cannot qualify their judgment of Hester's crime, they cannot acknowledge what Hester calls its "consecration." Though the perspectives of Hawthorne, the novel's narrator, the community, and each of the novel's four main characters say more about these individuals and their Puritan society than about adultery, each perspective contributes to the reader's multidimensional experience of the novel's central, unmentionable event.
Posted March 12, 2011
If you can remember the discussions from high-school English class about this book--read it again and see how much you've grown up! If you've been married, betrayed, or have children- it's a totally different read from when your only worry is breaking curfew and going to the mall.
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Posted February 26, 2012
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most well known pieces of literature, and it definitely deserves its title as an American classic. Set in a puritan colony in Massachusetts, the book depicts the life a young woman named Hester Prynne as she commits the ignominious crime of adultery. However, not only does she commit this sin with just anybody, her partner in crime turns out to be the town’s church minister. Then on top of this, Hester conceives a child she names Pearl. With the scarlet letter of shame she is now forced to where upon her breast, and with the child that was a direct result of her crime, she becomes the towns’ outcast. These elaborate conflicts carry on throughout the plot as Hester struggles to prevail over her disgrace and to keep incognito her fellow sinner. The third person narrative focuses on the development of Hester as she gains independence, and strives to achieve forgiveness and a normalcy back into her life. She starts work as a weaver in order to provide for Pearl, and help give back to the community. The piece also concentrates on Pearl, how she is the representation of a devil child, and her fascination and constant attraction to Hester’s scarlet letter. In addition, although Hester loves her with all her heart, she did not like the way Pearl was conceived. Pearl, along with her mother, is an outcast but develops into a strong, multifaceted child who in some minds, even sometimes in Hester’s, is evil. Pearl’s father is also developed in the story, as he deals with extreme guilt. He is driven almost insane with the knowledge that he should be sharing the same fate as Hester. Hawthorne writes in a way so well thought out, that the reader can feel many different emotions and conjure so many different opinions. Hawthorne pinpoints the themes of evil, sin, and the identity in society throughout the novel, really highlighting a psychological, as well as sociological, way of writing. He depicts these difficult subjects in such intricate ways through the different characters in his story. For example, the scarlet letter A helped Hester daringly analyze herself and her position in society, further letting her accept the awful she has committed. Arthur Dimmesdale on the other hand—Pearl’s father—had the internal burden of keeping his adultery a secret, thus displaying an alternative view and perhaps even a worse off way, to cope with his wrongdoing. Nevertheless, this is only one of the numerous interpretations of the different themes in the book, solidifying that the novel really does have a great deal of complexity. Although the novel is a fantastic classic, it does like anything else have a few weaknesses; some including the loquacious tone Hawthorne turns to when describing in depth different settings, people, and events. The narration during this lags on for a bit before it gets back into more interesting events. In addition, it is a classic, and the writing is obviously written with a different mannerism, which can be taken as a pain to read, or a very poetic technique. Even so, the Scarlet Letter’s benefits outweigh its flaws. The captivating plot, interesting characters, and complex themes keep the attention of the reader and make them want to keep reading to find out what will happen next. That is why the Scarlet Letter is a classic, and that is why it will be read for many more generations to come.
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Posted June 22, 2010
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I read this book in high school and reread it last week. It is one of those novels that improves over time and experience of the reader. I highly recommend this for all adults who read this as teens. Go back and look at the story with the eyes of someone who has experienced love and loss. It will change the way you thought about this wonderful book.
18 out of 22 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2010
Well I finally finished The Scarlet Letter. I have to admit it was slow to begin, but then the mystery of who was the father was caught my interest. I did figure it out before the book confirmed it, but I have to admit it was the mystery I liked best. The writer did his job, I thought her husband was a jerk which I would guess was the writers intent. I guess the only reason why I read it was because it was on the classic list, and it did stand the test of time for it to remain in today's society, but who am I to judge?!?!?!?
10 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2009
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I moaned, groaned, and complained about reading The Scarlet Letter for a literature class, but as I turned the first page, my attention was seduced. The writing itself is very unique in its style. Mostly, the chapters critically analyze the characters therin, delving into the abyss of thought. As well as displaying a fantastic portrayal of Puritan society, the symbols, the emotions, and the dialogue are masterful. The Scarlet Letter is well-wriiten, thought-provoking, and definitly a book that should continue to be read.
10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2009
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I read at least one classic each summer - some are good and some are actually as bad as I remember from High School. But I really enjoyed the Scarlet Letter.
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Posted March 13, 2009
I couldn't believe how monumentally dull this book was. I have never almost puked from boredom, but it almost happened while reading this book. The plot isn't actually bad, but it's the romantic style of writing, common in that time, which just kills me.
8 out of 24 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2012
Do you guys seriously have to use this as a chatroom or a random post blog? This is for reviewing not for stupidity. Get mad at me all you want but you can do your chitchat somewhere else. Be reasonable.
7 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 3, 2012
Please stop using this as a place to converse. I want a review on the book not to read ur conversations. This is not Facebook; go there if u want to chat. Please. Thank you.
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The Scarlett Letter Book Review
The novel The Scarlet Letter is based in the Puritan past in Boston. It starts off with Hester Pyrenne is being led to the town prison for committing adultery with her month old daughter named Pearl cradled in her arms.
The story behind this flashback starts when her husband sent her ahead to Boston (suspected to arrive later) then, never arrived as he promised Hester.  Meanwhile Hester was waiting for her husband to arrive to Boston, (out of helplessness without a husband) she had a baby with an unidentified man (to the reader) which she won't tell the jury while on her trial. After this account, Hester then falls in love with yet another man named Minister Dimmsdale that is trying to save her and her baby from being sentenced to death for commiting adultery. Hester and the Minister Dimmsdale are both united because, they mysteriously have a scarlet letter imprinted on their chests.  If you liked the beginning then, Im sure you would enjoy reading this story.
The story is a bit hard to read because, the prolouge is so long. To me it seemed worthless to read the entire 40 page long prolouge. It only explains about how the book came to be and facts about the author. It feels like there is an autobiography first of the author then, the story. I didn't enjoy this part of the book
The mystery unravels as you keep reading. If you like reading about the past and mysteries unraveling, you will enjoy this book. It does get a bit complicated with the names along the ways so I would suggest to take notes for your own benefit.  I did not enjoy this book as much as I could have because, the way it is written is very distracting and hard to follow. I also do not enjoy reading books based in the past. If you find yourself tastes similar to mine I would suggest not reading this book.
The book also did seem intresting to me in some ways when I finally did some research on what I was actually reading (because, I was very confused in some parts by the way it was written) The intresting part about the book that I did enjoy was that the author explains secret societies and their sophistication even in past times( when we think now that they couldn't be modernized) to be discovered later in time.
7 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 23, 2009
The first 17 pages of this particular version of Scarlet Letter is basically a "Cliff-Note" version of the book. Try not to read through it, otherwise you'll have no reason to read the actual novel. I read through the rest of the book, skipping through pages because, well, I already knew what was going to happen.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2010
This novel is considered to be one of the greats. Being an English Literature major, I felt I needed to read it. The synopsis is as follows: Hester Prynne, a woman living in Puritan New England, has had an affair with a man whose identity she refuses to reveal. From this union, Hester is impregnated, and the story opens on Hester holding the illegitimate child in her arms while standing on a scaffold in front of her entire town. As punishment for her adulterous act, Hester is sentenced to wear a large scarlet A on her breast for the rest of her life. As the rest of the story unfolds, the reader gains an understanding of Hester's true nature, as well as the nature of her child. This novel provides a clear view of life as a Puritan woman, yet I found it to be a bit "wordy" at times, often going off on tangents about nature or philosophy. By the end of the novel, I found myself not caring about any of the characters, even the child. Since this novel is taught in many high schools, perhaps I am missing something, and will read it again at a later time.
5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2012
Posted January 9, 2012
I had to read this for my English Lit. Class. Although the story is a decent one, the book is so slow moving and filled with a lot of unnecessary details and happenings that didnt help the story progress, they were just there, like a lot of filler. It was difficult for me to get through.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2012
It was over descriptive and drug on forever. A very long very boring story. The plot line was okay but it didn't reach expectations.
4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 23, 2012
What is with yall? Those arent reviews... and the whole i dont speak spanish/english... yall are freaks... i dont speak freak. If your gonna write a review actually write a review dont have convos...
This book is good but a little confusing you have to really be focused to read it.
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Posted December 26, 2011
If you like classic novels you'll love this. However if you don't it is super boring I only read the first chapter then sparknotes the rest.
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Posted July 28, 2009
Why is this book considered one of the classical texts? It is written in old style english, which is very difficult to understand. Also, the story is much to be desired. The women commits adultry, and she is forced to wear letter "A" on her dress. A book is considered classical when it portrays culture of the society properly. This book shows negative values of the society. Since in western culture such action is done often, it clearly shows that western culture has no culure.
I DO NOT recommend this book at all.
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As a required read in high school, which was quite some time ago, I had to read this story and if I needed a quick nap all I needed to do was pull out Scarlet Letter. Many years later I read it again. I knew there was a reason that Hawthorne had this grip on me. His writing is so dark, yet wonderfully illuminating. No one utilizes symbols better than Hawthorne. The idea that Hester lives on the edge between the city and the woods is a great example of how that represents her situation. It's absolutley brilliant. Also, there has to be a connection to Hawthorne's anguish through the character of Pastor Dimmesdale. The idea of living with so much guilt in a community that was intolerant of 'mortal' sins reveals the soul of Hawthorne and the quiet cry of a man tortured with his past. <BR/>I would highly recommend other stories of his, novels or short stories, in order to better understand his anguish and desire for perfection. Once I read other stories it made this novel so much easier to understand. This is on level with Romeo and Juliet without the feud.
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Posted June 6, 2012