Matt's Reviews > The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Sep 05, 09

Read in January, 1988

Hester Prynne tells Dimmesdale that what we did had "a consecration of its own." Dimmesdale laments his adultery but withholds his confession. He decides to escape his tormentor and Hester's unfaithful husband, Chillingworth, by going to Europe with her and their child Pearl. But he immediately comes under an even more chilling Satanic torment that arises from within. He finally tells Hester that they violated "the sanctity of each others souls" and are suffering for it. The only way of escape is public confession for a very public sin.

The Puritans get a bad wrap for legalism, which is a common temptation for reformers. The problem is that Hawthorne gives an almost one-dimensional portrayal of them. The Puritans discipline Hester without trying to redeem her which is quite un-Puritan. It turns out that one of Hawthorne's ancestors was part of the Salem witch trials. It seems he wants to escape this cloud while retaining the Christian message of "hope through repentance." He called his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson "a denier of all that is and a seeker of he knows not what," and for that I love him.

The humanization of Pearl is particularly touching and powerful. Hester is a proto-feminist of sorts, who is primarily critiqued but might have pointed the way to better relations between men and women. This is a bit confusing, but Dimmesdale is the real hero, and Hawthorne gets most of his character right. I just wonder how he was able to preach while the guilt was eating away at him. Why does it destroy his body but not his mind? Nevertheless, Dimmesdale ends up doing the right thing before the guilt kills him, and he points the way to redemption and release for all involved. The story is ultimately satisfying because Hawthorne beautifully critiques Hester's Romanticism through Dimmesdale and affirms that children need repentant fathers. Bravo
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message 1: by Mel (new)

Mel Why do you spend so many words to getto the point. Men are always threated by women,and during that era it was never so evident. Don't debate the reasoning and psychology of that book- look at the underlining threat of women to men.

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