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The Scarlet Letter
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Old Monthly Group Reads > The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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message 1: by Nicolle (new) - added it

Nicolle Enjoy...


Heather L  (wordtrix) I am waffling over trying to reread it. I still have my college text book, but that thing is HUGE (at least three inches thick) and I remember the print being fairly small. I know the novel itself isn't very long, and I did like it the first time through, but it's that darn fine print discouraging me. :-\


John Garner (jdgarner68) | 82 comments I have just now finished the preface, which was VERY long. It took Hawthorne quite a while to finally come to the point: what sparked the idea to write the Scarlet Letter.

Hawthorne is tedious. He uses as many commas as any author I have read before; he uses them not for adjectives to describe, but to keep throwing in extra thoughts on the subject of his sentence. He does this until you almost forget what the sentence was about.

All this said, I was able to get through the lengthy forward, and it seems I was able to get to know this author personally. I began to enjoy his autobiographical sketch of his time as a customs surveyor. I am looking forward to his story, and I think I may like it more now that I have a sense of who and how he was besides just a name on the back of a book.


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Rachel Pavalok | 22 comments I am always hesitant when reading a new book like ending will be horrible


John Garner (jdgarner68) | 82 comments Nathaniel Hawthorne had a connection with the Puritans that originally settled this country: they were his ancestors. Besides telling a story, he is also giving us a picture of what it would be like to live with a group of people with these narrow and strict ideas on peoples' role in society. The early settlers' ideas of a Utopia had some strange qualities to it.


John Garner (jdgarner68) | 82 comments I couldn't help but smile when I noticed Hawthorne spent 4 full pages calling Pearl a lovely, impish freak!


Richard I read this as part of my American History course at school. I remember finding it hard going at first, but I was younger and fitter and more ready to be challenged. I found it profoundly rewarding and absorbing, even life changing, but was quite put out by the fact that none of my classmates seemed to take its message on board ("what a bunch of Yahoos!" I might have thought consolingly if I'd discovered another classic novel back then). I went around trying to evangelise people into reading it, with total lack of success and attendant loss of street-cred. I recently picked up a radio adaptation from audible.com. It was well reviewed but I found it quite ugly-sounding and nowhere near as good as my now-vague recollections of the book. If I finish my current reads in time I'll try to join you with this read.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
This is a long-time favorite of mine. I love the surrealism of this work. Lots of Gothic atmosphere. It has a lot to say about repression in Colonial American society and also some early feminist thought, IMO. It is also very probing into the impact of guilt on the psyche. When I finished reading it, I had a lot of questions about what I think happened. I haven't read in a long time, but I really enjoy Hawthorne.


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments John wrote: "I have just now finished the preface, which was VERY long. It took Hawthorne quite a while to finally come to the point: what sparked the idea to write the Scarlet Letter.

Hawthorne is tedious..."


I tried, but couldn't do it. Skipping ahead to the story. LOL!


Heather L  (wordtrix) I had forgotten how long and meandering the preface was, until I had to slog through it again. At least the novel itself reads much faster than the preface!


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments I've only made it as far as chapter 3, but to be honest, I'm enjoying this SO MUCH MORE than I did in high school. It might be due to the fact that I keep envisioning Demi Moore. It helps to be able to envision what I'm reading about.


message 12: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Garner (jdgarner68) | 82 comments Sunny in Wonderland wrote: "I've only made it as far as chapter 3, but to be honest, I'm enjoying this SO MUCH MORE than I did in high school. It might be due to the fact that I keep envisioning Demi Moore. It helps to be a..."

Yes, me too. I only read excerpts back in school, and good English prose seemed a foreign language to me back then. I am really enjoying this novel. I am near the end. Hawthorne really was a gifted author.


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments I have a stupid question... in chapter 5, the children uttered a word while following Hester around town. What was the word? Adultery?


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
Sunny in Wonderland wrote: "I've only made it as far as chapter 3, but to be honest, I'm enjoying this SO MUCH MORE than I did in high school. It might be due to the fact that I keep envisioning Demi Moore. It helps to be a..."

I really disliked the movie, but the score is beautiful.


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Yeah, I know. I wasn't a huge fan of the movie either, but it HAS helped me get into this book a little more this time around. :)


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
That's good. I liked Gary Oldman, I should say.


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Are you kidding?!? He's the only reason I watched the movie! LOL!


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
I feel you on that! He was a very good Arthur Dimmesdale.


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Sunny in Wonderland wrote: "I have a stupid question... in chapter 5, the children uttered a word while following Hester around town. What was the word? Adultery?"

Just putting this question out there again, since I haven't received any feedback yet... Also, I have another question. Since I've seen a movie version of this, I already know how it turns out. But, in chapter 9, when Chillingworth and Dimmesdale share accomodations, would a reader unfamiliar with the outcome have any suspicions about Chillingworth's motives?


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
Probably called her a harlot or something like that.

I never trusted Chillingworth. He seemed very evil to me from the beginning.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
Hawthorne was a master at psychological horror and thrills.


message 22: by John (last edited Jun 12, 2013 04:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Garner (jdgarner68) | 82 comments I am beginning the last chapter! Everyone is mentioning Chillingworth; I don't think it is coincidence that Hawthorne appointed the cold, calculating physician with this name?

When I am through with the story, I am going to watch the movie; I have never seen any versions of it. I think I'll find the one with Demi Moore and Gary Oldman on the internet somewhere. Probably costs 2.99 or something.


message 23: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) I am so very happy to see so many positive comments for this much- maligned novel which is one of my favorites! I teach this in Advanced English 11 yearly. We approach it as a psychological study. It is certainly no romance, is it?! One commenter mentioned Chapter 9. Pay attention to the language as Chillingworth invades (the drugged?) Dimmesdale's rooms and rips open the minister's shirt to see "something" (ha ha) on D's breast. The language is highly sexual. It serves to highlight to the reader the psychological rape that Chillingworth will perform for the next several years on the unknowing minister ... Like a rape conducted while the victim is under the influence of roofies, as my students are quick to notice. This is not to imply any sexual connection ... Sometimes sex is not about sex at all in literature, but about power and control. (Let me recommend the wonderful How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster for more on that idea.) it is also helpful to notice that Chillingworth is a literary vampire (See Foster again). To the commenter who noticed Chillingworth's name's inherent symbolism: you're so perceptive! Kudos! Notice also DIMmesdale and Hester Prynne (rhymes with sin). Remember too that Roger Chillingworth is actually Roger Prynne. My students often ask if Hawthorne did all of this on purpose. My answer: heck yes! And heck no! He was a genius! I am just delighted to see that those of you who are patient with the novel (and Hawthorne's complex sentences with their miles of dependent clauses) are finding the enormous, incredible payoff! To close: I hated it the first four times I read it - then something clicked and now I absolutely love it! It deserves your patience.


message 24: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) If you read the book first, take my advice and do not watch the Demi Moore movie for fear that you will throw something through your TV screen ... It's that bad.


message 25: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Garner (jdgarner68) | 82 comments Kim wrote: "If you read the book first, take my advice and do not watch the Demi Moore movie for fear that you will throw something through your TV screen ... It's that bad."

Thanks. I won't waste my time or money then. Anyone have any suggestions for a good version of this movie? Or is there one?


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Kim wrote: "I am so very happy to see so many positive comments for this much- maligned novel which is one of my favorites! I teach this in Advanced English 11 yearly. We approach it as a psychological study. ..."

Thank you! How nice to have an advanced English professor involved in our group discussion of this book! SCORE! LOL!


message 27: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) John ... PBS made a bare bones but lengthy and true-to-the-plot version. Unfortunately, it's somewhat tedious, but some people really like it.
Sunny - thank you kindly - I have to point out that I am a high school lit teacher, not a professor, but I am flattered - it would be my dream if I weren't so close to retirement! I teach all levels of English 11, and AP Lit also. I am very passionate about what I do! This will be my 14th year of teaching overall, my 10th after coming back to the profession after a 20-year hiatus as a stay-at-home mom of four.
Karen - thank you also for the shout-out! Without passion for one's subject, teaching is merely an exercise. With passion, it can be life-altering. I am so happy that your daughter had such an amazing experience with her English teacher!


message 28: by Sunny (last edited Jun 13, 2013 11:01AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments I think Pearl may be getting a bum rap in this story. I've just finished chapter fifteen, and she's doing that mom, mom, mom, mom, mom thing asking about the scarlet letter. The way she is described is almost as if she's possessed by some mischievous spirit or has some other talent of "knowing" things she shouldn't. But, she sounds like any other precocious child to me. Maybe she's being portrayed as "impish" to add support the Puritan mindset that Hawthorne was trying to create?

Updated now that I've finished...

Great example of why students should be given more of a choice in what they read as opposed to assigning forced, required reading. I enjoyed this SOOOOOOO much more as an adult, perhaps because I have some life experience to help me relate more to the characters.

The scene when Roger Chillingworth was seen talking to the Captain of the boat, and then smiled chillingly (pun intended) at Hester... I had chills!

I also think there is a good message in here about how confessing a lie (or omission of truth) can be liberating in so many ways. Chillingworth (symbolic of the evils that will haunt you when you've committed a sin) just withered away to nothing after the truth was out. Because then, he had no more hold on Hester and Arthur.


 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 614 comments Mod
That is a very good point about confessing and dealing with guilt, Sunny. That is one thing that really stuck with me about this book.

I didn't enjoy several of the books I had to read in school, but this is one I loved. I didn't have a problem with the language or writing at all, which is not the case with some classics.


message 30: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Sunny, you are incredibly perceptive! For one, in class we always talk about sins of omission vs. sins of commission, and we talk about who commits each type, and what those specific offenses are. For example, I ask my students at the end to judge who was more guilty, Chillingworth or Dimmesdale. Many of them see D. as the biggest offender, and Hawthorne builds bitter irony (which the reader is intended to enjoy thoroughly, I think) beginning in chapter 3 when D. Is above Hester on the scaffold (delicious re-reading when you realize at last who he is!). Also, your remarks about Pearl were so enjoyable for me! I teach her as a "super-character," that is, a character who is above and beyond normal characterization, sort of like Darl in As I Lay Dying (not like Superman, ha ha!). Hawthorne himself succinctly declares that Pear IS the living A. She is a character who exists in two planes simultaneously - the Puritan world with Hester, and the world of Pearl so she can fulfill her role as the living manifestation of the Scarlet letter "endowed with life," as Hawthorne calls her. What is her role? It is multi-faceted. She is a literary type known as a character double, bearing all of her mother's characteristics unabashedly on the outside, impervious to Puritan judgment. Where Hester loses her relationship with God, Pearl doesn't even need one at all ... Declaring to Rev. Wilson in Ch. 8, "I have no Heavenly Father!" She flaunts Hester's internal insufficiencies, guilt and conflicts as her own best qualities! She also is not fully human, a true instance of character as symbol, until that moment when she kisses her dying father and is released from her role and can become a human being to live a fulfilled, balanced life, unlike her tragic parents. Pearl kicks ass, let me tell you! I love her! And after reading this so many times, I love Hester like a sister and I just want to counsel her to fly in the face of dogma and be her own person. Yet she chooses to live the remainder of her life in Boston after taking Pearl overseas to grow up there. That puzzles me more than anything. Gosh, what a masterpiece!
.


message 31: by Sunny (last edited Jun 13, 2013 03:43PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Kim, what you're saying about Pearl sounds interesting. I haven't read As I Lay Dying, so I'm not sure I fully understand the reference. Are you saying it would be like when we attribute human characteristics to an animal - in this case, Hawthorne's attributing the embroidered A's characteristics onto Pearl as he writes about her. So, that explains why she was described as "impish." Oooooh! I hadn't thought about it that way. Interesting!

*edited to correct glaring grammatical errors*


message 32: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan (dannosarusrex) I just joined the group and started reading The Scarlet Letter. My brain fell asleep reading the introduction. I hope it gets better.


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Dan wrote: "I just joined the group and started reading The Scarlet Letter. My brain fell asleep reading the introduction. I hope it gets better."

Hahahahaha! Yeah, I ended up just skipping that part.


message 34: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Sunny in Wonderland, nice to hear back from you! I apologize for the vague comparison. Both characters, Pearl and Darl, have a preternatural nature. That means that their knowledge and perceptions far (and sometimes mystically) exceed those of normal human beings. A great example of this is when Pearl, at the age of three months, on the scaffold, reaches toward Dimmesdale at the mere sound of his voice; then again, in Chapter 8, when she takes his hand and places her cheek on it. Also, consider when she warns Hester to come away from Chill. and Dim. or the Black Man (Satan) will get her ... " he has got hold of the minister already!" Knowing her to be a preternatural character, you can see how it makes sense that she is also a symbol; her preternatural nature makes it easy for Hawthorne to endow her with characteristics we might not accept in a character who is merely like us. This ties into the A itself and how it and Pearl are one and the same. It's not so much like the personification you mentioned as it is a sort of "supersaturating" the character with a huge quantity of distinctive characteristics on order that she may fulfill the author's purpose for her, which is to be the A until things come to a conclusion and/or resolution.


message 35: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) By the way, the only part of The Custom House (the sketch included as a preface) that I ask my students to read is the part about the finding of the letter in the attic. This is, I know, sacrilege to some English teachers. I just find the sketch exceedingly boring!


message 36: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Sunny, I almost forgot to mention: look at the second definition of imp:

Noun
A mischievous child.
A small, mischievous devil or sprite.

Hawthorne was, I think, trying to emphasize that the Puritan community truly thought Pearl was demonic.


Jocelyne Lebon | 51 comments I just got back from a trip and I read your posts with great interest. First of all, I want to say that Kim is a true Godsend. Kim, please don't you ever dare leave this group. Your insights are invaluable and your enthusiasm truly inspiring.

Like Sunny I could not get through the tedious preface and prayed it would get better, which I felt it had to, because I had just read The Blithedale Romance and really enjoyed it.

I loved The Scarlet Letter, not only the story but the style. I found some of the archaic expressions very amusing, and methinks we should employ them more often. "What ailed your mother to bedizen you in such a fashion?"!! The symbolism of Pearl was pure genius, and I also appreciated the overall optimistic streak running through this bleak tale, for instance the touches of color in Hester's grim life, like the rose bush in front of her cottage, her lovely embroidery, as well as the acknowledgement by the people of her charitable heart. Somewhere in the text, Hawthorne notes that love comes easier than hatred. The scene in the woods when Hester meets Dimmsdale is one of my favorites for its romanticism and also because it really puts forth the full force of Hester's character, her courage, her boldness, her sense of justice.

I just want to add that I really appreciate all your comments; their truly enrich my experience.


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

Kim (kim_carnahan) Jo


message 39: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Jocelyne,

Thank you so much ... I am gratified if any of my insights help anyone to understand this masterpiece better! I love it so much, and I want others to appreciate it, if not love it. I tell my students that appreciating it is quite enough... I do not try to make them love it, but it's terrific if some of them do! But an appreciation of what Hawthorne did, stylistically speaking, opens the doors to higher perception of all literature.

Since you mentioned the archaic language (I love your quote!), let me share with you my favorite, from Ch. 7 "The Governor's Mansion," spoken by Puritan children: "Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!" It crack me up every time I read it! How would a child say this today? The change in our language is amazing. Hawthorne wrote this less than 200 years ago!


message 40: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Something else to pay attention to is that Hawthorne was an early feminist. His feminist ideas permeate this work. Hester is the earliest of suffragettes, yet she cannot externally manifest her thoughts, for, as she herself acknowledges in the tour de force that is Ch. 15, "Another View of Hester": "She assumed a freedom of speculation ... Which our forefathers, had they known of it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet letter." The fact that her crime of adultery is a capital crime in Massachusetts at the time, punishable by death, gives much importance to the fact that she believes that if the Puritans knew what she was thinking, they'd kill her. Hester lives a life of the intellect (remember that her only company is a child) and recognizes that if any societal change is to occur, "...the whole system of society is to be torn down and built up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex ... Is to be essentially modified, before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position." And on the last page, witness Hester's concluding thought that "The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed ..." The hint I think Hawthorne leaves here is that Pearl, as Hester's externally-manifested character double, can pick up that torch in the more accepting land of Europe where she lives. Enjoy picking out these feminist references! As a side note, a glance into Hawthorne's past in the little book American Bloomsbury reveals his feminist, society-defying connections in New England. No wonder this book was considered scandalous when published! It was considered to be incendiary and pornographic! This also explains its success!


Sunny (travellingsunny) | 231 comments Kim wrote: "Jocelyne,

Thank you so much ... I am gratified if any of my insights help anyone to understand this masterpiece better! I love it so much, and I want others to appreciate it, if not love it. I tel..."


Kim, although Hawthorne wrote this 200 years ago, he was writing a story that would have taken place 400 years ago. I found the dialogue in the story to be much more "archaic" than the narration and preface. Why do you think that would be? Is it because it's more obvious when in dialogue form, or do you think Hawthorne was trying to recreate what the language would have been 200 years before his time?


message 42: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Sunny, that would be my thoughts on the matter- as you said, trying to recreate the speech of the Puritans, who were basically speaking English of the Elizabethan or Shakespearean period. Archaic to Hawthorne and even more so to us, but his effort to represent them, I guess.


Jocelyne Lebon | 51 comments Thank you, Kim, for pointing out the feminist references. Also, don't you think that his views come through indirectly when he mentioned the fact that people, as opposed to the establishment, looked more kindly upon Hester given her charitable nature and seemed to be more prone to forgive her for her reprehensible conduct.


Chelle (bookishlychelle) Dan wrote: "I just joined the group and started reading The Scarlet Letter. My brain fell asleep reading the introduction. I hope it gets better."

I must admit, while hating to be the voice of dissent, that I really struggled to read this book. If it hadn't been for the fact that the book was 'assigned' as a challenge, I'd have given up a third of the way through.
I liked the story and the characters and see all of what the people above me have written about the virtues of the book but, for me, I just couldn't get past the writing style. It didn't help that I didn't know a lot of the words used, not because they were old but because they just weren't part of my vocabulary. So in that sense I learned something.
I'd suggest perservering with the book, I may just be the odd woman out and you may love it as much as the others did.


message 45: by Jocelyne (last edited Jun 18, 2013 09:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jocelyne Lebon | 51 comments Chelle wrote: "Dan wrote: "I just joined the group and started reading The Scarlet Letter. My brain fell asleep reading the introduction. I hope it gets better."

I must admit, while hating to be the voice of di..."


THe language is challenging, forsooth! I totally agree with you, Chelle, that having the book assigned as a challenge and knowing that others are reading and struggling too is a big incentive to persevere. I also think that the more one reads in the same style, the less trying it gets. It so happens that I had just read The Blithdale Romance prior to this and maybe that is why it made this reading a little easier. I also read it on the kindle and I love having the dictionary right there. Last but not least, I am in the Proust Group and Proust really twist my poor neurons around. I am looking forward to an easier book to rest my brain a little!


message 46: by Jocelyne (last edited Jun 18, 2013 09:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jocelyne Lebon | 51 comments A few weeks ago, I saw the movie called The English Teacher. It is not a terribly significant movie but although critics absolutely killed it, I enjoyed it more than expected if only for the inspiration I got from the English teacher, Julianne Moore, who had such a passion for classics and her enthusiasm was 'verily'contagious. Kim reminds me of the character. Kim's students are very lucky to have her.


message 47: by Heather L (last edited Jun 18, 2013 10:06AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Heather L  (wordtrix) Chelle wrote: "It didn't help that I didn't know a lot of the words used, not because they were old but because they just weren't part of my vocabulary. So in that sense I learned something."

That is, I think, one of the greatest benefits of reading the classics: you gain a vocabulary. It's one of the things I love about reading old newspaper articles, too. They didn't "dumb it down" to suit their audience the way so many do and expect today. They took it for granted that people would know or understand what they were saying.


message 48: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Jocelyne, I have to thank you for giving me something new to think about in TSL! You mention the tendency of the Puritans to eventually give no small amount of credit to Hester for her charitable works. It is like a sign of their better inner nature overcoming the dogma and threats from their religion, at least to some extent. I never looked at these characters in that light before! But if Chill. And Dim. Share the polar extreme of evil, then the Puritans can be seen in a softer light, can't they? I just need to add that they can't completely overcome it, not would they want to ... They are so steeped in their beliefs and controlled by the theocracy of their community that they would not be able to change that much. This is proved by the circle they leave Hester isolated in near the end of the novel, in the Marketplace. But I love your idea and it gives me a great dimension to add to my teaching! Thank you!


message 49: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Jocelyne, thank you for the heads-up on the movie! I'm not familiar with it but I might check it out! I have only been back to teaching for a little while and I plan to retire soon, so I have to give it all I've got. Anyway, I'm one of those poor souls who believes that characters are really alive, and it's my mission in life to make my students believe they are, too! ;-) So, thank you sincerely for the kind words.


message 50: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim (kim_carnahan) Chelle - no apologies, no regrets! Every book is not every person's cup of tea! (I can't get through Pride and Prejudice. There. I've said it. All Janeites of the world will now be after me!) Only a fraction of my high school juniors like this book, let alone love it! And that's while passing 42 minutes a day with a teacher who would do anything to help them appreciate it! So I am totally empathetic. The advice I give them is to just try to blast through the story to get to the delicious psychological conflicts! But try this. If a sentence is giving you a hard time (as it is Hawthorne, two out of three sentences might), just read the beginning and the end, then look at some of the clauses in the middle to see how they help you to flesh out the meaning. This technique has helped many a junior get the gist of the tough syntax. It's interesting that everyone here is talking about the vocabulary ... But the syntax, or sentence structure, is equally daunting! Did you all know that the reading level of this novel is something like post-collegiate level? So don't beat yourself up over the difficulty! It's one of the hardest books you'll ever read.


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