"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

   Note: This review (or maybe I should say discussion of the book – if you can hold a discussion with yourself) is chock  full of spoilers. You have been warned.
  It is the seventeenth century in the very Puritan settlement of Boston and Hester Prynne is condemned as an adulterer. On her chest is a scarlet letter A, marking her as a sinner. Carrying a baby in her arm, the proof of her adultery, Hester is forced to stand on the town’s scaffold and undergo an hour of humiliation under the collective scrutiny of the entire town.
    Hester’s character is one I couldn’t help admiring. She accepts her position as the recluse, without wasting time nursing any sort of bitterness or hatred towards the townspeople. Nor does she seem to resent the man who has helped her attain her lowly position. She faces her exclusion with a strength that was quite uplifting to read about – Hester is the book’s strongest character, in my opinion. I was cheering for her the entire time – even her refusal to name the man who was her child’s father was carried with such resolution despite the further blame it triggered from the town. She accepts what the town deems as a terrible wrongdoing with a calmness that cannot fail to impress. Maybe I was especially caught up over it because she is quite lofty when compared to the other two main characters. Namely her husband, Roger Chillingworth, and Arthur Dimmesdale, the one who is Pearl’s father.
At the scaffold
   Roger Chillingworth’s character was absolutely fascinating to read. As I said, Hester’s was my favourite character but there was just something about Chillingworth that was highly intriguing. He is utterly twisted – both in appearance and character. His occupation is that he is a physician. His studies and research in medicine are what estranged him from his new, young wife of the time (Hester). Eventually he succumbs to his true love of research and travels abroad, furthering his knowledge in both European’s medicine as well as the more mysterious knowledge of the Native Indians. If the reader is to believe him, at the start of the book he has been wandering in the wilderness without a home for a long time. Thus, he is already allocated this position of mystique and enigma. His behaviour towards Hester, while cold, is just. He is aware of their differences in character, age, and his strong absorption in medicine that has resulted in their separation. Consequently, he does not judge her for her actions; nor does he wish to harm her or the poor child. That was an aspect I couldn’t help but like.
   But the twisted, fascinating part about him is the desire for revenge against the man who has committed this sin with his wife. That desire consumes him so thoroughly, becoming his sole reason for his choosing to stay in the town.  At first he is described as someone who is calm and methodical in his appearance and way of thinking – but by the end, he is likened to the devil himself, painted as a gargoyle who has come to seek vengeance. And I LOVED IT. I don’t know – maybe there’s something wrong with me. I just loved the fact that here was this very intelligent, very meticulous man, who using that very intelligence and meticulousness to right the wrong that has been done him. However, in the end all that thought-process comes to nothing – it all just shatters and he’s submerged in passion and black hatred. He is almost insane by the end – it’s really fascinating to watch the change.
   Which leads me to the second man – Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester’s chosen paramour. It is deliciously ironic because he is one of the town priests. And it is even more deliciously ironic because he is the most adoredtown priest. I shall give you a moment to chortle with delight.
Roger Chillingworth
   It definitely took me more than a moment. I think I chortled through most of Dimmesdae’s parts in the book. I don’t know if Hawthorne intended the pun or not, but next to Hesterl and the physician, Dimmesdale does come across as slightly dim and dull. Don’t get me wrong – his is a tough position. To possess such a lofty reputation in the town, to have everyone regards him so highly – and not just highly, but as innocent and devoid of all wrongdoing – and then to turn around and admit your wrong would be incredibly difficult. I suppose his fall would have been a greater one than Hester’s. However, he isn’t entirely cold-hearted – from the moment Hester is condemned, maybe even before, it’s clear that the man is not at peace. He becomes a murmuring, stooping, heart-clutching mess, and next to Hester’s silent suffering it’s quite pathetic to watch. Enter Roger Chillingworth – the physician figures out who his target is pretty quickly – and Dimmesdale’s decline only increases tenfold.
  It all makes for a very fascinating story to read about – mainly because, the whole thing seems like a character study, focusing on its three different subjects. Four, if you consider Pearl –Hester’s young, mischievous and fey-like daughter. I really did like Hawthorne’s writing – it is so vivid and the man knew how to set a scene. It played out like a film in my head. There were some parts where the pacing became a little slow and I found my attention wandering, but on the whole it makes for a fascinating read. Fascinating – that seems to be my word of choice. It can’t be helped. I was fascinated. I still am.
     Lady Disdain 

2 thoughts on “"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  1. I've watched the film version of this, and it sounds like the book differs. I love a good classic, and this is on my wishlist.
    Great review, 'painted as a gargoyle who has come to seek vengeance', sounds dramatic!


  2. Ah, I have yet to watch the movie version – I've seen one with Gary Oldman as Arthur Dimmesdale and he looks really good!
    Oh yeah, it's definitely dramatic. I hope you enjoy it when you eventually do read it.


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