Books + Hot Chocolate

Books + Hot Chocolate

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Scarlet Letter

Title                : The Scarlet Letter
Author            : Nathaniel Hawthorne
Genre             : Fiction/ Adulthood 

The Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an 1850 romantic work of fiction which is about the life of a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock. This novel is also one of his best works.  Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of the Puritans society who is very religious and pious.  The protagonist, Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair is struggling to create a new life of repentance and dignity. Throughout the book, Hawthorne explores themes of righteousness and sins and also the façade of the Puritans society. This book is very traditional in a sense that the language used is very deep and difficult to digest. Thus, if you are a young reader, it is not advisable to read this book as myself also having difficulty to fully understand it. But, if you are interested and want to know more about this book, it is a good choice because it contains a lot of suspense and moral conscience in the story. Moreover, you can visualize how the Puritans carry themselves during that period. Knowing other country’s history is always fascinating for me. That is why I have chosen this book to be included as one of my favourite books.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography: How is it related to the story?

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, a descendant of a long line of Puritan ancestors including John Hathorne, a presiding magistrate in the Salem witch trials. In order to distance himself from his family's shameful involvement in the witch trials, Hawthorne added the "w" to his last name while in his early 20s. If you have no idea about the Salem witch trials, you can click on the link below to see the cruelty that people had done to those innocent people who they called as “witches”. Many people died during that era of Puritanism (including two dogs which were also being labelled as witch dogs – ridiculous isn’t it?) I have read about it in The Crucible, a play written by Arthur Miller and it saddened me to know about the past history. It is a great reminder for us to be fair and considerate towards other people’s sufferings.

After his father, a ship captain, died of yellow fever at sea when Nathaniel was only four, his mother became overly protective and he was living in an isolated life. Hawthorne's childhood left him shy and bookish, which molded his life as a writer. His insufficient earnings as a writer forced Hawthorne to enter a career as a Boston Custom House measurer in 1839. After three years Hawthorne was dismissed from his job with the Salem Custom House. By 1842, his writing finally provided him income sufficient enough to marry Sophia Peabody and move to The Manse in Concord. His experience working in The Custom house provides him the ideas to write The Scarlett Letter. In the first chapter, he gave vivid descriptions about the custom house. I think that his ideas of writing this novel originated from his experience working in the custom house. One thing that is appealing to me is that, the novel also revolves around the Puritans society (the place where he was born and raised). During his life, he hated his own community because he thinks that they were pretentious people, pretend to be religious but at the same time, they practice negative lifestyles, such as punishing people without carried out any investigation. The injustice that happened in his community drives him to write this novel – a way to express his dissatisfaction towards The Puritans.

The Scarlet Letter was an immediate success that allowed Hawthorne to devote himself completely to his writing. He left Salem for a temporary residence in Lenox, a small town in the Berkshires, where he completed the romance The House of the Seven Gables in 1851. While in Lenox, Hawthorne met with Herman Melville and became a major proponent of Melville's work, but their friendship later became strained. Hawthorne's subsequent novels, The Blithedale Romance - based on his years of communal living at Brook Farm - and the romance The Marble Faun were both considered disappointments. 

Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, after a long period of illness during which he suffered severe bouts of dementia. By this time, he had completed several chapters of what was to be a romance, and this work was published posthumously as The Dolliver Romance.

What is this story about? What makes it interesting?
  • Setting: Starts in June 1642, in the Puritan town of Boston — story continues over several years.
  • Main Characters: Hester Prynne; Arthur Dimmesdale; Roger Chillingworth; Pearl
  • Major Themes: Puritan society; sin & guilt; revenge
  • Movie Versions: The Scarlet Letter (1979); The Scarlet Letter (1995)

In June 1642, in the Puritan town of Boston, a crowd gathers to witness an official punishment. A young woman, Hester Prynne, has been found guilty of adultery and must wear a scarlet "A" ("A" is a symbol of adultery and affair) on her dress as a sign of shame. Furthermore, she must stand on the scaffold for three hours, exposed to public humiliation. As Hester approaches the scaffold, many of the women in the crowd are angered by her beauty and quiet dignity. When demanded and cajoled to name the father of her child, Hester refuses.

→ It is a shame for religious people like The Puritans to behave in such a terrible manner (calling name, humiliate Hester and trying to beat her). I mean, if you are really religious, you wouldn’t have done that. Even if you are religious and others are not, it is not up to you to judge whether someone is sinful and she should go to hell. Who are you to judge? This novel makes me pounder about that.

As Hester looks out over the crowd, she notices a small, misshapen man and recognizes him as her long-lost husband, who has been presumed lost at sea. When the husband sees Hester's shame, he asks a man in the crowd about her and is told the story of his wife's adultery. He angrily exclaims that the child's father, the partner in the adulterous act, should also be punished and vows to find the man. He chooses a new name – Roger Chillingworth – to aid him in his plan.

→ The revenge plans are utmost interesting in this novel. We want to know how he can find out the culprit and what he will do to that man (kill/ beat him up/ torture him?)

Reverend John Wilson and the minister of her church, Arthur Dimmesdale, question Hester, but she refuses to name her lover. Her loyalty towards that man is very strong as she is willing to suffer alone. 

→ The main question: Who is the father? This is what makes the story more interesting as we want to know the identity of the “mysterious man”.

Well, the rest of the story you can discover by yourself. So what are you waiting for? Quickly grab yourself a copy and start reading. I hope you will have a pleasant day reading this book. Below I included the movie and a short clip about the summary of the story. If you don’t want to spoil your reading, it is advisable not to click in the links before you finish the book. So, until next time,  adios! 

  • Here is the link for The Scarlet Letter - free e-book. 
Free E-book Online

  • This video is very beneficial for students because it gives quick understanding.  

  • If you want to watch the full movie,  just click on the link below this picture. 

[ Click here to watch the full movie:Full Movie ]

  • I hope you will enjoy both the book and the movie.

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