Kat Kennedy's Reviews > The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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it was ok
bookshelves: kat-s-book-reviews

Modern society and a number of people seem somewhat confused about our ancestors. On one hand, they're dumbass peasants who attached BYOW (Bring Your Own Witch) to their barbeque invitations. On the other hand, they sometimes imbue them with super mystical intelligence, class and abilities whilst bemoaning how stupid and uncouth we have become in comparison.

The Scarlet Letter allows us to judge that the reality was somewhere in between but mostly sitting on the side of pathological stupidity.

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And borderline sluttery, but we don't complain about that part...

The Scarlet Letter is one of those books they force children in American schools to read at gunpoint in an effort to "educate" them and to force otherwise useful knowledge out of those young brains.

Precious, precious knowledge!

In fact, reading this book reminded me of why I'm so passionately vocal about education reform!

Changing Education Paradigms

This book is pretty much everything wrong with our education system today. It is out of date, it's read pretty much consistently across the board whether it's applicable or not, and its lessons aren't entirely fundamental to today's society and what little value is to be learnt in this book, is better learned by other means.

The fact is that people are getting smarter. All the time. It may not look that way when Jersey Shore starts up on your television set, but it's true. And we're really too smart for a book whose object lessons are so comically out of date in today's society. This book deals mostly with issues that are no longer issues, and any moral lessons that might apply to life today are so badly translated that one must argue why this book is still circulating in the education system. This is why most high school graduates don't like reading, and mostly, don't like reading the classics. They think it'll just be more of the same as The Scarlet Letter.

So, please, if you are in school and your psycho bitch of an English teacher (remember: men can be bitches too!) is asking you to read this book, tell them their antiquated ideas of education are suppressing your self-actualized desire to learn in a mode that is both natural and effectual to one day becoming a valued member of society.

Remind them that reading old books a bunch translates to being educated about as much as placing said books on your head and hoping you absorb the knowledge through a form of psychic-osmosis.

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Or you could show them this picture and intimate through a series of eye-wiggles that this is THEM and you refuse to be a part of it.

If they argue, please feel free to tell them that I give you full permission to go read something that isn't a complete waste of your time.

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Reading Progress

January 26, 2011 – Started Reading
January 26, 2011 – Shelved
February 10, 2011 –
page 100
43.86% "It must make an interesting start for a nation to be founded on Puritanical principles. Americans, what effect do you think this has had on the psyche of your nation?"
February 18, 2011 – Shelved as: kat-s-book-reviews
February 18, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)

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Dinjolina Hahaha...omg!You are just hilarious! :))

Kat Kennedy I'm confused...

The UHQ Nasanta It's been a while since I last read this book. What did you think were the lessons that didn't apply to our current society?

Morgan F Kat, you summed up why I refused to read more than two chapters of this book in high school. Thank God for Sparknotes.

Kat Kennedy Nique, the question should be, "what do you think DOES apply to our society and what text would most appropriately convey these needs."

In which case, I fear, The Scarlet Letter would never qualify.

message 6: by Aleeeeeza (new)

Aleeeeeza ive never read the book before, but i HAVE seen the movie easy a, so i do know quite a bit about it. and i understand and agree with what you're saying--the whole antiquated literature and morals part.

Cory The pictures really add to the review. Especially the Jersey Shore picture. And yes, for whatever reason, this is required reading for Americans. Unfortunately, I didn't know about Sparknotes when I read it.

Duffy Pratt Umm... The book was written in 1850 and takes place in 1642. Do you think it's lessons were any more applicable to folks in 1850 than they are now? Why is that a valid criticism? Or let me put it this way: what would your expectations be for a book written now about the Napoleonic Wars -- that's the kind of time difference we are talking about. Think Jonathon Strange and Mr. Morrell.

message 9: by Kat Kennedy (last edited Feb 18, 2011 05:50PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kat Kennedy Duffy, my criticism is, why is this book required reading for American School students? How does this contribute towards their education? I feel it doesn't and on it's own, as a literary piece it is stark, boring, melo-dramatic, contributes nothing from a feministic view-point, when considered from a critical view point, it's construction and prose is meh and last of all, I fail to see the great moral lesson that is supposed to be the cornerstone of this story.

So summed up - why is this a 'classic'? What makes it standard literary fare over any other novel? In my opinion - there's nothing that elevates this novel over others.

message 10: by Kat Kennedy (last edited Feb 18, 2011 06:18PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kat Kennedy As for my expectations for a book written now about the Napoleonic Wars - well, for starters, I would expect the byline to read something like: "Land wars in Russia: Don't!"

But mostly I would expect that it is an accurate reflection of the time with an intriguing story and solid prose. For it to be a classic, I would expect it to have some significance to reader's today. That it contributes something.

The Scarlet Letter is an argument against moralism in the legal system. Not an entirely bad argument, I may add. But then I would have to argue - Has taking moralism out of the legal system benefitted it? That's a whole other kettle of fish.

But then it doesn't contribute to the discussion and Hawthorne's chosen platform doesn't really allow for a discussion on what makes good legalism.

In fact, his novel is just as bad as the Puritans. Judgemental on a global scale without significant insight into WHY their culture was like that. It merely separates the reader as "us" and "them", casting them in the light of wicked and horrible - barely redeemable and us as some kind of enlightened beings.

message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa That is the one book I was assigned in HS that I didn't read! I hated it! That was back in the 70's.

message 12: by Priestess (new)

Priestess Enshrina Better not expand out horizons too much. Best stick with books that are more applicable to society today, like Twilight.

Kat Kennedy Of course. Because I didn't personally find a great deal of applicable value in The Scarlet Letter means I must be some offensive ignoramus whose only interest is Twilight. Naturally.

I sincerely hope you don't get too much wrist strain.

message 14: by Missy (new)

Missy LaRae While I don't think that it's entirely applicable to today's society, the Scarlet Letter is filled with certain themes that are applicable today. The major theme that I see is the slut shaming. It's the same now as it was then, perhaps even to a larger degree and a greater scale now due to technology. I equate the wearing of the scarlet letter to bullying. Do teachers see it that way? I'm not a teacher so I can't give a definitive yes, but I would imagine so.

America is not an old country, we've a limited history to write about. While our history is exciting, it's not thousands of years old like many other countries out there. The Scarlet letter I feel does one thing....it begs the reader to justify the actions of the characters within it within our society. It does give teachers the ability to objectively pursue answers within their student body. Is this the first or last book with this theme? No, it's not. However, it is AMERICAN. Therefore, must be better, must be the one used, and must be the end all be all for american students.

It's what's used to portray our culture, although it is skewed in a major way. As a bookworm/english geek I can tell you that I've read The Scarlet Letter three times, ages ago, but I remember it made me mad, and made me really uncomfortable. I think it was, and is, controversial enough to do the job it's tasked to do within the educational system. I do believe there are other, better, alternatives out there, but such as it is, it's our classic, about our supposed history, and the founding "morals" of our country, and I think that's why so many school systems still require it for reading today.

Good review! All good points. :-)

Kat Kennedy All excellent points, Missy.

message 16: by Mary (new) - rated it 1 star

Mary i have to read this for a book report:( i hope i can manage

Suzanne I think the point is to actually read something that was written that long ago. To see how styles and view points have changed over the last 150 years. No, people aren't getting smarter, nor are they getting dumber. We have vastly more discoveries and knowledge to build upon, but smarter? No. People are however becoming more snarky, lazy, and less willing to accept things outside of their own comfort zones.

Kat Kennedy It never ceases to amaze me how people justify their response to critical reviews. "How dare she question this books place in a school system that is flawed and due for a make over!"

Naturally it must be because I don't read or like classics, right? RIGHT?! And lazy! That makes sense! Someone independently reads a book, doesn't like it and takes the time to chronicle the experience...so lazy!

Of course. Makes perfect sense.

message 19: by Alexandra (last edited Jul 14, 2012 09:36PM) (new)

Alexandra Thankfully, due to my high volume of voluntary reading growing up I was able to opt out of many of the books commonly required in school. There were only a very few I had to read I didn't willingly choose. Never had to read this one, and after reading your review I am doubly glad.

And I absolutely agree with you regarding students that don't like reading. Reluctant readers who start out in school only reading what they are required to typically are not inspired to change their minds about reading because throughout the course of their school years the books they are required to read are so often dry and dull. With that their only real exposure it's easy to see why they consider reading boring.

I know if I were to base my view of reading solely on those books I was required to read that my teachers choose for us I would not like reading either. To this day 3 of the 4 I can remember are on my list of most terrible books ever. I can only think of one typically required book that I have since read that I did enjoy, that presented many things to think about, and wished I had read earlier.

message 20: by Carly (new) - rated it 1 star

Carly As someone who also had serious issues with this book, I really enjoyed your review. I also enjoyed reading the comments. Why is it the case that age legitimizes poor and lazy writing? Archaism does not a great novel make. Hawthorne was once a bestselling popular writer much like Meyer. 150 years from now, if Meyer somehow creeps into canon literature and someone gives a negative review of Twilight, will people be whining about an inability to appreciate Twilight as "great literature?"

Jared Houston I've never known a meme to improve the strength of an argument.

Kat Kennedy What a small world you know.

Jared Houston yep.

message 24: by Uzoma (new) - rated it 1 star

Uzoma It's like you have articulated all the feels I had struggling through this antiquated piece of crap. Thank you.

Scott Rhee Kat, I enjoyed your review, and I agree with many of the things you mentioned, especially regarding education reform (great video, by the way) and the fact that this book should NOT be taught in school. I'm a high school English teacher who had the unfortunate experience of having to teach this book. (To be clear, I happen to love the book now, as an adult, but I recall hating it in high school, partly because I didn't "get it". I get it now. While attitudes may have changed, the sense of morality has not, and the self-righteous religious fundamentalism that Hawthorne is writing about is still alive and well. It's rearing it's ugly head in this country in the debate over same-sex marriage and woman's reproductive rights. There are still scarlet letters today. Sadly, 'A' for 'adultery' isn't one of them, but 'H' for 'homosexual' sure is.) I think you're right that students shouldn't be subjected to "The Scarlet Letter" but not because it doesn't have something to say about judgmentalism and hypocrisy (it does) but because students today don't have a sense of the historical context of the book, and they don't really care. When I taught it, I knew that half the students would hate it and the other half just wouldn't understand it, but once we got into it, I noticed that, during discussions, students began to relate more to Hester and Dimmesdale. They may not have understood or experienced the exact situation the characters were going through, but they understood Hester's quiet strength in the face of a community that looked down on her, and they understood Dimmesdale's fear in having his 'horrible' secret revealed. When placed within a context that students can relate to and "get", I think that a book like "The Scarlet Letter" can be an excellent book to teach. It is, however, for many students, just another one of those 'old' boring 'classics' written by the 'dead white guys' of the western canon.

Kat Kennedy That's a very interesting, informative comment, Scott. Thanks.

Kailia Having read this book two years ago, in the 10th grade, I can tell you that I hated it. So muvh that I didn't even finish it until class discussion began and like Scott said, we (the students) were able to connect to Hester and the other characters. Prejudice and pride and going against what was expected were all points we made. I found this book to be an excellent book to be taught in school because it showed that while America has come a long way from when this book was written and its time, we can draw parallels.

but of course, you not liking is your opinion and I respect that. I know many of my friends who felt the samw way about this book as you do!

message 28: by Rhea (new)

Rhea People long ago weren't stupid. They were ignorant.

message 29: by Ron (last edited Dec 31, 2013 04:12AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ron Luty And the worst thing about it, his writing is like watching paint dry, way too overdesriptive and cant keep the readers attention.

message 30: by Amber (new) - added it

Amber I don't agree with many of your reviews towards the YA books that I enjoy, but as a sophomore reading this book I have to say I agree with your review for once!

message 31: by LG (new) - rated it 4 stars

LG You're use of "psycho bitch" (despite the disclaimer that a man can be a bitch, too!) is just a great example of how thorough and deep misogyny runs in our society. So you might not want The Scarlet Letter taught today, but it does address this issue from way, way back. Also, what are your alternatives? You want change but offer no specifics. I'm not for or against this novel being taught in high school to everyone, but I do think the message is important. And saying the message vs. showing the message are two different things.

message 32: by Katie (new) - rated it 1 star

Katie Smith FYI teachers often don't have a choice when it comes to required readings (or much else, for that matter). No need to call your teacher a "bitch". If you want change, you have to start at the district level.

message 33: by Katie (new) - rated it 1 star

Katie Smith FYI teachers often don't have a choice when it comes to required readings (or much else, for that matter). No need to call your teacher a "bitch". If you want change, you have to start at the district level.

message 34: by Katie (new) - rated it 1 star

Katie Smith FYI teachers often don't have a choice when it comes to required readings (or much else, for that matter). No need to call your teacher a "bitch". If you want change, you have to start at the district level.

message 35: by Matija (new)

Matija I haven't grown up in the American educational system, but you pretty much summed up my experience with a good part of compulsory reading I had to do. It was a while ago, so with a cringe, there even came a smile. Nice review of the book, cool review of the educational system.

La La This book was written to show what happened was wrong! You have to write about things in historical context to show the injustices. How else ate people going to learn what things were like in that period of history? Your two stars is like if someone in 2099 gave a currently well written diverse book two stars because gay persons were bullied in the story when the story was conveying that it was wrong.

message 37: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Bowman The attitudes of puritanism still reverberate through our society, so this book is still extremely relevant. Many schools are now using The Crucible instead of The Scarlet Letter, but that play does not deal specifically with the hypocrisy and destructiveness of puritanical sexual mores the way Hawthorne's novel does. The book isn't flawless--the section in which a scarlet A is seen blazing in the night sky is odd (although it's usually excused as a mass hallucination)--but the book is still one of the best novels ever written. For the record, I read it as a junior in high school, and it immediately became one of my favorite books, so not every teenager finds it unbearable. The plot is secondary to the illustration of Hester's character and the illumination of her social environment, so if you're the type of person who can only read page turners, then I can understand why you didn't like it.

message 38: by Jeri (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jeri I'll just say you're wrong, and leave it at that. Because what experience would teen-age girls ever have with slut-shaming?

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