The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, was one of those literary classics that I may or may not have been required to read when I was in high school. I don’t remember if it was required or not. It was over 40 years ago. Cut me some slack. But when I entered college in my early thirties it was definitely required in my freshman English class. I even wrote an essay on it, The Right Reverend Dimsdale. I got an excellent grade.
The Scarlett Letter was first published in 1850–164 years ago. I liked it very much. I didn’t read it when it was first published and have never been personally introduced to Nathan H., but read a much later edition of the work. I had read none of Hawthorne’s prior to this reading in 1995 and can’t recall any I have read since. I can name a couple of his other stuff, but that’s about all.
The novel is set in Puritan New England in 1640, shortly after the Pilgrims’ landing. The two main characters are Hester Prynne and the community minister, Arthur Dimsdale. It is a story of adultery and the price of publicly revealed and punished sin and privately confessed sin and the punishment for it.
Hester and Reverend commit adultery. Hester’s husband husband Roger Chillingsworth and been presumed lost at sea and so when Hester turns up pregnant it is a clear case of adultery. She publicly refuses to name the man who sired her baby who ironically is one of her judges and inquisitor’s at the public hearing and publishing of her sentence. Her sentence is to wear a red “A” affixed to the breast of her garment–hence the title “The Scarlet Letter.”
It is a heavy themed story rich with symbolism of sin, guilt, good and evil. Public and private punishment are underneath every plot structure. Don’t read it for a chuckle, but read it. You’ll find it worthwhile.
Have you already read it? Yes? Good.
No? Don’t wait any longer.