Friday, October 28, 2016

Let's Bust a Recap : The Scarlet Letter

Well, for the sake of trying to actually finish my book list this year, I took a break from The Pilgrim's Progress and decided to dive into The Scarlet Letter, and I have to say: it was the perfect October read. With just enough mention of witches, demons, and fiends against a dreary New England setting, this novel (one of the greatest American novels of all time, many say) felt almost haunted. Perfect for curling up under a cozy blanket and reading straight through. (In case you can't tell: I liked it.)
The Scarlet Letter was written in 1850 but set in the 1640s--long before America claimed her independence from England. The Scarlet Letter is considered to be the masterwork of its author Nathaniel Hawthorne, a native of Salem, Massachusetts whose many works feature moral allegories with Puritan inspiration. Hawthorne's fiction was part of the Romantic Movement and classified specifically as Dark Romanticism. (Sounds enticing, right?) He dealt with themes involving the inherent sinfulness of man and his work typically had deep moral messages and a lot of psychological complexity. And The Scarlet Letter is certainly no exception.

The novel tells the tale of the beautiful adulteress Hester Prynne (branded with the scarlet letter "A" for her sin), her elf-like daughter Pearl (conceived from her adulterous affair), the holy Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale (SPOILER! he's her babydaddy, y'all), and old Roger Chillingworth (who is straight-up possessed by the devil). At the beginning of the story, we find Hester Prynne being publicly shamed and punished for the sin of adultery. Despite extreme pressure from the town superiors to reveal her partner in crime, Hester absolutely refuses to name the father of her child. As the novel continues, we see Hester bearing up under the shame of the scarlet letter, raising her little Pearl, and managing to live her life with dignity after her very public humiliation juxtaposed against Arthur Dimmesdale wasting away with the guilt of concealing his role in the affair. (To find out more about nasty, old Roger Chillingworth and his part in this mess, you'll have to read the novel for yourself.)

Confession time: this was assigned reading for me in high school, but I never finished it. I think I got about halfway through before stopping. I had this wicked streak in me during my academic career to never finish books that were required reading. Honestly, I don't know why. Call it the devil, but I wouldn't even finish books I was enjoying. Like this one. Or Wuthering Heights (seriously, I got to chapter 20 and stopped. OUT OF 22 CHAPTERS!). Or Huck Finn. Or The Screwtape Letters (which was a book of my own choosing for my senior thesis paper!). I have read all of these books since high school of my own volition and to my own great enjoyment. Why I was such a decided little rebel back then I credit to the fact that we're all depraved creatures in need of the Good Lord's grace.

All that to say, this was my first time reading all the way through The Scarlet Letter to the end, and even though I had an idea of the basic plot, it felt like a brand-new, first-time read to me. 

And I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it with one caveat: skip the dang introduction. It was 32 pages of pure misery that had me believing that between The Pilgrim's Progress and The Scarlet Letter, I would never finish my book list this year. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it took me longer to read that 32 page introduction than it took me to finish the whole 24 chapter book. It's not that important and except for one tiny reference in the very last chapter of the book, you don't need to read it to understand anything in the novel. Spare yourself.

To wrap this up, I just have to reiterate how masterful and psychologically complex this novel is. I think I suffered a moral crisis while reading it, and as I was nearing the end, I really wasn't sure where Hawthorne was taking it or if I'd appreciate the destination when we arrived. He finished beautifully, and I would love to discuss this book in more detail with anyone who's read it. Two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? Did you have trouble with taking direction in high school (or at any other time of your life)? What is your favorite October-y book to read? Any challenging books you're trying to wrap up before the end of the year?


  1. "Why I was such a decided little rebel back then I credit to the fact that we're all depraved creatures in need of the Good Lord's grace."

    I died. Lol

    I also had to read this in high school. Honestly, I would need to read it again. But I would love to discuss it in-depth with you! :) Also, you're SO GOOD at book summaries. Seriously.

    1. Thank you. :) And YES! you should read it again so we can talk about it because #moralcrisis.

  2. Love your review! I read it last year, and that introduction is mostly politics from his time period where he's mocking people we don't know. I think the only high school book I never finished was Pilgrim's Progress. I got through all of Part I, but didn't finish Pat II in time. I was a goody 2 shoes though, so I finished everything else.

    Favorite October read - Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Haunting and spooky and worth reading more than once.

    Debating whether or not to read Wuthering Heights. I get such mixed reviews.

    I need to start At Dawn We Slept soon, even if I don't finish. It's about Pearl Harbor.

    1. That's the thing! I was a straight-A student. And I have always loved to read. So I really can't explain the impulse I had to purposefully not finish assigned reading. LOL!

      I've heard lots of great things about Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I've never read it. I will have to put that on my life list. I definitely think Wuthering Heights is worth reading at least once in your life, and it would be a great October read--absolutely haunting and spooky. :)

      Did you ever read Unbroken?

    2. I didn't read Unbroken, but I heard great things about it.

    3. Ray Bradbury is great, not for plot, but because his use of language is so poetic. Dandelion Wine is a great summer option, and Fahrenheit 451 just because you have to. Dystopian fiction is so interesting, but so is More's Utopia, which is not as long as I thought. Read it mostly because of Ever After, but glad I did.

    4. I highly recommend Unbroken. I flew through it.

      I've always wanted to read Utopia because of Ever After, too. :)