The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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2018/19 Group Reads - Archives > Scarlet Letter Week 1: Introductory, Chapters 1-3

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message 1: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
The Introductory chapter is fairly long and gives us information about the author's family background, the Custom- House and his time there, and the inspiration for The Scarlet Letter.

What do we learn about the author's family that may be relevant to the book?

How did the author feel about his fellow employees in the Custom- House?

What do you think would be their reaction if they read his comments?

Why did he lose his position there--and why was this a good thing?

What inspired him to write this novel?


message 2: by Rosemarie, Moderator (last edited Aug 12, 2018 06:12PM) (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
Chapter 1
What is the focus of this very short chapter?
Why do you think Hawthorne started his book this way?

Chapter 2
What are your first impressions of Hester and the people of Salem?
Who is Hester thinking of as she is standing in the marketplace?

Chapter 3
Which characters do we meet in this chapter?
Why do you think Hester is keeping the name of the father a secret?


message 3: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I enjoyed Hawthorne's introduction to the story, a nice way to lead into what was in fact his foray into historical fiction. So it seems we are reading historical fiction about historical fiction. Unless, of course, the introduction is authentic -- he really did work in a Custom House, but did he actually find an embroidered scarlet letter A along with a packet of letters and documents about the case?

It was also fun to be reminded of Hawthorne's wry sense of humor in his descriptions of his co-workers... like his description of the Custom House Inspector...
"The original and more potent causes, however, lay in the rare perfection of his animal nature, the moderate proportion of intellect, and the very trifling admixture of moral and spiritual ingredients; these latter qualities, indeed, being in barely enough measure to keep the old gentleman from walking on all-fours."
Hawthorne lost his job to politics, and had this to say about politicians:
"There are few uglier traits of human nature than this tendency -- which I now witnessed in men no worse than their neighbors -- to grow cruel, merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm."
Amen.


message 4: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
Janice, that quote struck me as well. I am enjoying his ironic use of language. I can just see him at work surrounded by all the old men, who were getting paid for doing nothing.


Creative Orange (Rumell Khan) (rkrespectedmember) It also touched me.


message 6: by Roman Clodia (new)

Roman Clodia Rosemarie wrote: "Chapter 3: Why do you think Hester is keeping the name of the father a secret?"

Interesting question. I don't think there's a single reason. Partly Hester takes the father's sin to herself to protect him; but also she withholds the information as an act of defiance, in the same way that she embraces the 'A' by embroidering it so lavishly that one of the women in the crowd comments:

"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain... but did ever a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a way of showing it! Why, gossips, what is it but to laugh in the face of our goodly magistrates, and make a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for a punishment."

Hester carves out some limited agency for herself but does it, paradoxically, by embracing her 'sin'.


message 7: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
That makes sense. Hester has little power in society, but she does have power to decide how she will deal with her situation.
There was a young woman who realized the pain Hester was feeling, but the others did consider her a brazen hussy.
She must love the father of her child, otherwise she would not be so determined.


message 8: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
How do you think Hester feels as she is surrounded by the townsfolk in the market place?


message 9: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) I think she's protecting the young preacher. He was intensely relieved when she refused to give up the father's name.


message 10: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 716 comments I was interested to see that Hawthorne introduced so many historical figures into the introduction, including Mr. Pue, the original teller of Hester Prynne's story--but as far as I know, Hester herself is a fictional character. Was it to make the reader believe she was a real person?

It's also notable to me that Hawthorne felt the need to create this pseudo-historical pedigree for his story instead of simply telling it as a fiction set in a historical past. It seems unnecessary to do so unless he is trying to tell his readers something about themselves--some kind of cautionary tale about traits inherited from their ancestors that lie dormant in them but could yet awaken, perhaps.

Am very curious to see how he plays this out, if the intent behind the strategy becomes clearer.


message 11: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
I just started reading, and posted this is the background thread. I thought it might be helpful to also see it here. A map of Salem in 1692

http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/maps/up...


message 12: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 716 comments Thanks for the map! It surprised me--based on Hawthorne's description I was picturing a coastal village with a shingle beach, not something with quays on an inlet.


message 13: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "Thanks for the map! It surprised me--based on Hawthorne's description I was picturing a coastal village with a shingle beach, not something with quays on an inlet."

It is a coastal village. Look down along the edge. You will see Village of Salem which is where Hawthorne resides. You can still visit a house in which he lived.


message 14: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Here’s on picture of the shore in Salem

https://goo.gl/images/mNxJbK


message 15: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
Thanks for the map and photos, Deborah.


message 16: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
I’ve done a bit of digging. There was no A found by Hawthorne; however, he is believed to have been inspired to write the story by true accounts of several women in New England. Sources list three different women as the inspiration - one source says it’s a combination of two women; the other source says one woman.


message 17: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 716 comments That's much more what I pictured in my mind, Deborah! Thanks!


message 18: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Picture of the old state house in Boston. It’s very near Quincy Market a long time shopping area. Perhaps the balcony referred to in these chapters.

https://goo.gl/images/zWTMKh


message 19: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
This paints quite a picture for me since I’ve been to Salem, and many times to Boston. I live 2 hrs west of Boston. I must admit to finding the introduction long, and having a difficult time holding my attention.

That being said, there appears to be a duality in Hawthorne’s writing, and perhaps view of the world. He sees the laziness of his coworkers yet finds value in their humor and stories. He receives much needed money and mental respite from writing in the custom house, yet sees the political cut throats. Even in Hester’s story he intermingles reality with fiction. Many of the people mentioned were real people of Boston.

Immediately Hawthorne shows Hester’s strength. She’s embellished the A, she stands proudly even while cringing inside, and protects the father regardless of the cost to herself.

For me, this will be an interesting read as scenes of Boston and Salem pop into my head.


message 20: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
I think that having visited places that are mentioned in books adds an extra dimension. I have never been to Massachusetts, so the photos really help.


message 21: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4497 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "I think that having visited places that are mentioned in books adds an extra dimension. I have never been to Massachusetts, so the photos really help."

Glad you enjoyed them. I was a bit concerned they were too much.


message 22: by Rafael (last edited Aug 20, 2018 01:50PM) (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments I am reading it in english, not my first language, and sometimes it is very difficult, but I am trying not to look in the dictionary for some unknown words to let the story flows.

I am curious to know if we will know who is the children's father.


message 23: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2939 comments Mod
The language can be difficult at times even for English speakers, Rafael. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.


message 24: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 716 comments Glad to have another reader joining us!


message 25: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments Rosemarie wrote: "The language can be difficult at times even for English speakers, Rafael. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask."

Thank you, Rosemarie.


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