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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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The Scarlet Letter (original 1850; edition 1961)

by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Maxwell Geismar (Afterword)

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22,77824654 (3.39)1 / 693
Member:rsubber
Title:The Scarlet Letter
Authors:Nathaniel Hawthorne
Other authors:Maxwell Geismar (Afterword)
Info:Washington Square Press, Inc., New York,
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:fiction, literature, American literature, 19th century

Work details

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

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    Midnightdreary: Similar exploration of the question of sin, inherited or otherwise.
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Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is a classic love triangle set in Puritanical Massachusetts. Hester Prynne becomes the town pariah because she has an illicit affair with a man who is not her husband and bears a child. As fate would have it, Hester's husband comes to town on the day of her punishment and keeps his identity a secret in order to protect Hester from additional punishment. However, Hester's husband, Roger Chillingworth, vows to seek the baby's father and exact revenge. Ironically, the baby's father is a minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who is considered a saint in the parishioners' eyes. Dimmesdale has a heart condition and requires the medical attention of the local physician, Roger Chillingworth. The result of secrets and broken promises between these three characters drive the action of the plot and also demonstrate the preposterous beliefs of the Puritan faith. Though Hawthorne wrote the book as a criticism of the Puritan religion, particularly the beliefs of sin and damnation, the worthlessness of a sinner, public judgment for private sin, and the effect of hidden sin. He juxtaposes good and evil, conformity and individualism, and love and hate as they shape the human identity. Hawthorne fills the novel with symbols and motifs that reveal deeper meaning through connections. Moreover, his novel is a prime example of Romantic literature and displays all of the elements of the literary period. One of the major discussions in this unit is public punishment for private sin (shaming). I use Monica Lewinsky as an example of a modern day Hester Prynne. Also the theme of unrequited love can be explored by comparing Hester Prynne's love for Dimmesdale to Abigail's love for John Proctor.

Resources:
Image of the love triangle http://www.johnpackard.com/uploads/3/9/7/1/39710388/3129212_orig.jpg
Image A+ http://www.readliterature.com/hesterprynne2.jpg
Modern Hester https://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame?language=en ( )
  sgemmell | Apr 21, 2016 |
The novel takes place in 17th-century Boston, Massachusetts during the summer, in a then Puritan village. A young woman named Hester Prynne, has been led from the town prison with her infant daughter in her arms and on the breast of her gown "a rag of scarlet cloth" that "assumed the shape of a letter." It was the uppercase letter "A". The Scarlet Letter "A" represents the act of adultery that she has committed and it is to be a symbol of her sin—a badge of shame—for all to see. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester's husband, Roger Prynne, who is much older than she, and whose real name is unknown, has sent her ahead to America whilst settling affairs in Europe. However, her husband does not arrive in Boston, and the consensus is that he has been lost at sea. It is apparent that, while waiting for her husband, Hester has had an affair, leading to the birth of her daughter. She will not reveal her lover’s identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her subsequent public shaming, is the punishment for her sin and her secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her child’s father.[2]


The Scarlet Letter. Painting by T. H. Matteson. This 1860 oil-on-canvas was made under Hawthorne's personal supervision.[2]The elderly onlooker is Hester’s missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass. Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and her daughter Pearl grows into a willful, impish child, who is more of a symbol than an actual character, said to be the scarlet letter come to life as both Hester's love and her punishment. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston. Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but with the help of Arthur Dimmesdale, an eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there may be a connection between the minister’s torments and Hester’s secret, and he begins to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps, Chillingworth discovers something undescribed to the reader, supposedly an "A" burned into Dimmesdale's chest, which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.[2]

Dimmesdale’s psychological anguish deepens, and he invents new tortures for himself. In the meantime, Hester’s charitable deeds and quiet humility have earned her a reprieve from the scorn of the community. One night, when Pearl is about seven years old, she and her mother are returning home from a visit to the deathbed of John Winthrop when they encounter Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. Hester and Pearl join him, and the three link hands. Dimmesdale refuses Pearl’s request that he acknowledge her publicly the next day, and a meteor marks a dull red “A” in the night sky. It is interpreted by the townsfolk to mean Angel, as a prominent figure in the community had died that night, but Dimmesdale sees it as meaning adultery. Hester can see that the minister’s condition is worsening, and she resolves to intervene. She goes to Chillingworth and asks him to stop adding to Dimmesdale’s self-torment. Chillingworth refuses. She suggests that she may reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale.[2]

Hester arranges an encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest because she is aware that Chillingworth knows that she plans to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale, and she wishes to protect him. While walking through the forest, the sun will not shine on Hester, though Pearl can bask in it. They then wait for Dimmesdale, and he arrives. Hester informs Dimmesdale of the true identity of Chillingworth and the former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family. They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. The sun immediately breaks through the clouds and trees to illuminate her release and joy. Pearl, playing nearby, does not recognize her mother without the letter. She is unnerved and expels a shriek until her mother points out the letter on the ground. Hester beckons Pearl to come to her, but Pearl will not go to her mother until Hester buttons the letter back onto her dress. Pearl then goes to her mother. Dimmesdale gives Pearl a kiss on the forehead, which Pearl immediately tries to wash off in the brook, because he again refuses to make known publicly their relationship. However, he too clearly feels a release from the pretense of his former life, and the laws and sins he has lived with.

The day before the ship is to sail, the townspeople gather for a holiday put on in honor of an election and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon, sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold. He impulsively mounts the scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing the mark supposedly seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead just after Pearl kisses him.[2]

Frustrated in his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston, and no one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, Hester returns alone, still wearing the scarlet letter, to live in her old cottage and resume her charitable work. She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who was rumored to have married a European aristocrat and established a family of her own. Pearl also inherits all of Chillingworth's money even though he knows she is not his daughter. There is a sense of liberation in her and the townspeople, especially the women, who had finally begun to forgive Hester of her tragic indiscretion. When Hester dies, she is buried in "a new grave near an old and sunken one, in that burial ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both." The tombstone was decorated with a letter "A", for Hester and Dimmesdale.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
A dark, gothic tale that seeps into the conscious, perhaps wordy for modern readers, but satisfying. ( )
  charlie68 | Feb 22, 2016 |
A classic tale. Hester Prynne, accused by her community for adultery. Bearing a child, is a pariah of her community.

I really don't know if there is much I can add to this story that hasn't already been said about it. It is a must read. It should be on everyone's bookshelf. What amazes me most about this book is that even back then Nathaniel Hawthorne showed the injustic of the double standard. Where women are treated as the chattel they were and men literary got away with murder when it comes to women. I also love the fact how the author points out that some men are just scum above and beyond how they treat women.

This book is and will always be a classic for me. It is one of my favorites. I highly recommend it to be on everyone's bookshelf! ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
Another character sketch more than action novel, but much more human than Billy Budd. While Billy Budd seemed contrived to make one feel sorrow over his death, The Scarlet Letter exposes the psychological damage that guilt, revenge, and sin have on a person. Hawthorne exposes the inner workings of men's souls as an example to us of how our choices effect not only us but those around us, and how ultimately, our choices lead us, despite God's sovereignty, toward an end. That does not mean, however, that God can not and does not have his way, as is clearly seen, for instance, in Jacob's life—and Pearl's. ( )
  memlhd | Jan 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 237 (next | show all)
No one who has taken up the Scarlet Letter will willingly lay it down till he has finished it; and he will do well not to pause, for he cannot resume the story where he left it. He should give himself up to the magic power of the style, without stopping to open wide the eyes of his good sense and judgment, and shake off the spell; or half the weird beauty will disappear like a dissolving view. To be sure, when he closes the book, he will feel very much like the giddy and bewildered patient who is just awaking from his first experiment of the effects of sulphuric ether. The soul has been floating or flying between earth and heaven, with dim ideas of pain and pleasure strangely mingled, and all things earthly swimming dizzily and dreamily, yet most beautiful, before the half shut eye. That the author himself felt this sort of intoxication as well as the willing subjects of his enchantment, we think, is evident in many pages of the last half of the volume. His imagination has sometimes taken him fairly off his feet.
 

» Add other authors (105 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hawthorne, Nathanielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baym, NinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coetzee, J. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Connolly, Thomas E.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dwiggins, W AIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Francisco, SellénTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, FloNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harding, BrianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, DickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levin, HarryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marx, LeoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wauters, AnnieNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
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Book description
The Scarlet Letter is about a woman who is an outcast in her community due to her child outside of her marriage. It is the story of her life and the life of her child as they are scorned for their sin while the father looks on blameless. This story is about dealing with guilt and seclusion.

I had heard this story for a while. My father always brought up the "A" that was sewn into Hester's dresses. And I think the story-line is really interesting, but I just didn't really like it. There were whole chapters that I felt were pointless. It was just a really slow read.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553210092, Mass Market Paperback)

Hailed by Henry James as "the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country," Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter reaches to our nation's historical and moral roots for the material of great tragedy. Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community: the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful Chillingworth.

With The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne became the first American novelist to forge from our Puritan heritage a universal classic, a masterful exploration of humanity's unending struggle with sin, guilt and pride.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:14 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Hester Prynne, a young wife in colonial New England, is sentenced to wear a scarlet "A" on her clothing, as a public acknowledgement of her sin of adultery.

(summary from another edition)

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