Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Massachusetts in 1804. His father was Captain Nathaniel Hathorne (without the ďwĒ) and he had one sister named Elizabeth. Hawthorne graduated from Bowdin college in Boston in 1925. He then moved back home to Maine where he lived with his mother and published him first book Fanshaw: A Tale at his own expense. Later he burned all the copies he could find of that book. He got a job at a custom house to support his family. There, he got lots of information for his novel The Scarlet Letter. In 1851, Hawthorne became good friends with Herman Melville who was writing Moby Dick at the time. Other books by Hawthorne are The House of the Seven Gables and Tanglewood Tales. Hawthorne died in 1864.
This book deals much with sin and romance and the consequences of sin and romance (namely Pearl). Another book that dealt with a similar theme was The Grapes of Wrath.
The book begins with an essay titled ďThe Custom House.Ē It serves for nothing more than a preface.
The book begins by explaining that Hester Prynne has committed adultery and has a child with a man that is not her husband. Hester will not tell who the father of this child (Pearl) is. As a punishment for her sin, she must stand on a scaffold and receive the insults of the people for three hours and she must wear a scarlet ďAĒ on her bosom for the rest of her life as a symbol for her sin.
Hester was sent before to husband to Massachusetts. Her husband, however, never made it to Massachusetts and was assumed lost or dead on the Pacific. Hester found out this was not true when she saw her husband standing in the crowd watching her on the scaffold. Later, Hesterís husband (Roger Chillingworth) visits her in jail. Roger apologizes that he was late but explains that he was captured by Indians and held captive. He convinces Hester not to reveal that he is her long lost husband, but swear that he will find and seek revenge on the father of this baby.
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and his friend John Wilson are introduced at the scaffold begging Hester to reveal the father of the baby so that he may suffer just as Hester does. Ironically, it turns out that Arthur Dimmesdale was the father of the baby and he and Hester knew it. Roger Chillingworth who was a physician as well as Hesterís husband, moves in with Reverend Dimmesdale because Dimmesdale was growing ill
While living with Dimmesdale, he grows suspicious that Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl and seeks revenge on him by hurting him more than curing him of his illness. But this was only a suspicion until one night, Chillingworth opened Dimmesdaleís shirt while he was sleeping and discovers a scarlet A on Dimmesdaleís Chest. Chillingworth continue to torture Dimmesdale.
Hester and Pearl was let out of prison when their term was up. At this point, pearl was a young girl. She was, however, drawn to the A on Hesterís chest, a constant reminder of her sin. Dimmesdale, feeling guilty visits Hester and Pearl. Then one night the three of them stand on the Scaffold together and Dimmesdale imagines people mocking him as they should have seven years ago. He apologizes to Pearl and Hester for not being with them on the Scaffold. While they are on the scaffold, a meteor flies through the sky leaving a trail that looked like the letter A, another reminder of the sin. Hester tells Dimmesdale that her real husband is Chillingworth and that he wants revenge, badly. They decide to run away together on a ship on election day.
On election day, Hester discovers that Chillingworth booked a ticket for the same boat that she and Dimmesdale was going to take. Dimmesdale delivers his election day sermon, one of his best sermons ever spoken, and walks up to the scaffold with Hester and Pearl to reveal his sin to all his congregation. He confesses everything and falls ill and dies soon afterward. Hester leaves with Pearl. A few months later, Chillingworth dies and leaves Pearl a great sum of money. Hester and Pearl move to England where she is looked upon as a wise woman and they go to her for advice. She continues to wear the scarlet letter there.
The plot seemed to be contrived. It had too many symbols to be real and I didnít find myself in the place of one of the characters. To me, it was just a story. There was no human struggle in it and I didnít find myself rooting for any of the characters. The use of the letter A was good at first but later I thought it was overworked and was just fluff without the content of a good plot. There was one saving grace though. The ending was a good one. It resolved the story not by killing the characters as in East of Eden, but actually resolved it. Hester grew into a wise lady learning from her experiences being rejected. The fact that Chillingworth died added to the mystical symbolic nature of the book by showing that the sole purpose of his existence was to torture Dimmesdale, and once Dimmesdale was dead, there was nothing more to do.
As I said before, I didnít feel for the characters. I never really got to know them and I didnít care for them. I did have certain opinions of the characters but most of them were more bad than good. First of all, I did have sympathy for Hester for falling into this situation where she thought her husband died, plus she didnít even want to marry her husband in the first place. Even though I felt sympathy, I didnít feel that it was right for her to sleep with Reverent Arthur Dimmesdale for the reason that they werenít married. Dimmesdale, I thought was largely a hypocrite. He was seen by his congregation as holy but he knew he wasnít. He did have the virtue of feeling very guilty about his sin but he shouldnít have done it in the first place. He is a Reverend! He has a congregation to think about. Also, I thought the puritan society was too harsh on them. Sure Dimmesdale and Hester sinned, but it is not a sin against society, it is a sin against God. Let God deal with it. Also, years after the sin, they never forgave Hester for her sin but continued to treat her as an outcast. Chillingworth was like a tank. He drove forward toward his goal and never stopped, until he could go no further which was when Dimmesdale was on the scaffold out of Chillingworthís reach. This drive that Chillingworth had could be in a sense commendable in the sense that he did have a goal that he tried to reach, but that goal was nevertheless evil and deceitful. Pearl, although she was cute, was in my eyes a brat. Her mother was suffering but she didnít comfort her, she added to the suffering. Perhaps I lost much of my interest in the story because I saw no one that was good, that I could associate myself with.
Dimmesdale: Father of Pearl. He was a Reverend that in the beginning of the book begged Hester to reveal the father of the child, who was himself.
Hester: The adulteress. She sinned by having a child that wasnít from her husband and was punished by all of society.
Pearl: The result of the sin. Pearl was the daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale. Even before she knew that Dimmesdale was her father, even when she was an infant she was drawn toward Dimmesdale. She was always a reminder to Hester of her sin and grew up in my opinion to be a brat.
Chillingworth: The avenger. This guy was MAD! He not only was mad-crazy but he was mad-angry. He had the goal of torturing Dimmesdale and worked toward it with incredible fervor.
The novel takes place in Salem Massachusetts. Salem is known for its witch trial and witch burnings, of which one of Hawthornes ancestors was part of. Many people during this time was publicly humiliated so the punishment that was put upon Hester could have really happened. The sin could have really happened. But the way Chillingworth drove for revenge is unrealistic. The entire book is too symbolic to be realistic. This setting is probably the best place possible for this story, not only because of its history but because there is a forest for Mistress Hibbens and a puritan society. If it took place in California, we Californians would probably say, ďA reverend had a child with someone elseís wife? So?Ē
I didnít like Hawthorneís style. He showed a large vocabulary from through this work. The style sounded archaic and all the people spoke alike. This wasnít natural speech. Everything that was said was like prose, as a novelists would have written narration, but not as one should write speech. Hawthorne used a lot of figurative language. All these things together made the reading difficult and slow. The book dragged sometimes and at some points became downright boring. He did have some creative uses for the letter A but that was all.
The Scarlet Letter revolves around the theme of sin. Who had the greater sin? Was it Hester for adultering? Was it Dimmesdale for adultering while being a Reverend? Was is Chillingworth for seeking revenge? Hester came forth with her sin and should have been forgiven. Dimmesdale sin should have been more harshly punished than Hesterís since he never came out with his sin and kept it hidden. I guess you could say that he did have a harsher punishment because he died as a result of it. Chillingworth had, I believe, the worst sin of all. He drove at revenge and never felt guilt. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth punishment is an example of punishment from God: death. People didnít kill them but God took their lives.
I didnít really enjoy this book as much as some of the others I read for the book report. But some of the ideas of sin can be applied to real life. Itís better to come out and confess your sin. Itís not good to judge other peoplesí sin and leave the judging to God. And finally, ďDo not seek revenge or bear grudge against your people.Ē Leviticus 19:18.