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The Scarlet Letter - A Book Review

I highly advise rereading books after a decade or more. Why? Because what you think you read and what you really read is not always the same. Especially when you read it in high school or college under duress. That is what happened when I just read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne after more than twenty years. What I thought had happened was very distorted over the years.

If you have forgotten what the book is about or just simply never cared, let me summarize. The whole story starts off with a young woman who has recently given birth being taken from the dark prison of a Puritan colonial settlement and placed upon the scaffold of shame along with her newborn girl. Upon her breast is a scarlet letter ďAĒ that proclaims all that sees this mark that she is an adulteress. Her husband had disappeared over the last few years which does not help her cause. She is asked to announce who should be on the scaffold with her, but she declines out of love for the man.

The story gets more intricate as unbeknownst to all but her the husband that has been reported missing has shown up on the same day as her public shame is announced. He desires to keep his identity secret as he hunts out the man who shamed his wife. It is not long in the story that the reader discovers the agony a young minister has in hiding his part in the shame while longing to be with her in exile. It is a passionate story of secrecy, laws, social acceptance, piousness, revenge, and the dark currents of manís evil nature.
First of all, this is not a long book. It is relatively short. The version I read only had about 170 pages of the actual story. The rest of the book was comprised of introductions, notes, commentary, and a large bibliography.

What turns many off from this classic is the fact that it was written in the 1800s in early America. It is always assumed to be dry and boring as it is not written in the fashion of today. No, you wonít find long dialogues where a character pours out their heart and soul. Instead you will find descriptive narratives to give us these feelings.

For example, the minister who should be on the scaffold with the woman shows the reader his guilt through the decline of health and the constant covering of his own breast where he knows another scarlet letter resides that only God can see. The innocent comments of a child over the years brings attention to the seen letter on her motherís bosom and the unseen on that of the minister.

In all honesty, I found it hard to put the book down as I was drawn in with the poetic language of Hawthorne to the souls of a young woman who longed for love, a man who was torn between two worlds of love and obligation, and a man who gave his soul to the devil just to exact revenge.

This is a true classic that gives someone a glimpse into the world of Puritan colonial America and into the social and religious order it abided by. In addition to that, it gives one a glimpse into their own souls and has them pondering which character represents themselves.

I highly recommend that you read this classic. If you have read it once, do it again. Read it with more mature eyes and the ability to connect with the characters within the book.

Note: This book was provided as part of a class on American Fiction.

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