In truth, I started the novel not very enthusiastic. It seemed slow to me. The forbidden couple had already fallen in love and Hester had been found out through an unexpected pregnancy. Her lover remained concealed. It seemed strange to me why Hester wouldn’t turn him in, because she was taking all the heat for a baby. Anyway all the “action” seemed to have already happened. But as I started to get to know the characters I fell in love with them and the story!
The story starts with poor Hester standing on a scaffold in public ridicule and shame, holding her infant, all while hiding the identity of her lover. I’m seriously, not a fan of the un-named lover. Suddenly, the story takes an unexpected twist when Hester’s long-lost husband, Rodger, turns up in disguise as she’s being ridiculed as an adulteress. Now I for one, felt completely sorry for Rodger. I mean he sends his wife ahead of him to the New World only to get kidnapped by Indians when he arrives and is thought dead and when he is finally released he finds out his wife cheated on him. Not a good day.
Then the priest, Arthur Dimmesdale, is called up to say a few words to Hester to try and make her reveal the identity of her lover, which she refuses to do, but the priest says some very suspicious things that point to the fact that (SPOILER) he’s the baby-daddy. But he’s so well adored by the town that no one seems to notice.
Hester, Rodger, and Arthur each suffer in their own way from the humiliation of the Hester. The rest of the novel is an exploration of these three characters, and their quests for fulfillment. Hester uses purity and good deeds to show that she is more than her relationship choices. Arthur uses religion to try and absolve his guilt. And Rodger uses revenge to try and remove the hurt and anger he experienced through Hester’s betrayal with Arthur.
Things I loved about the book
1. Hester is amazing! She is the epitome of the strong single mom. When patriarchal sexist men try to take her little girl away, she bravely and eloquently argues for why her daughter should stay with her and succeeds in convincing them so much that they agree to let her keep her child.
2. Hester doesn’t allow the abuse she’s received at the hands of society to make her bitter and resentful. Typically when someone has been injured by another they are prone to lash out at others in retaliation. But even more than simply floating through life, Hester goes so far as to help others who are worse off than herself. She offers her help to all even when they respond to her kindness with cruelty.
3. Hester bucks all of the conventional rules of society. First, off Hester chooses to love who she wants even when all of the world says it’s wrong. She believes her husband to be dead and rather than choose a life of loneliness she chooses to love another. When she is branded as an adulteress and told she must wear an A on her chest forever she ornately embroiders the A to stand out as much as possible in defiance of what others think of her.
Ok so basically everything I loved about this books comes down to the fact that I love Hester. But I mean is that so wrong? She’s an amazing heroine and completely underrated in the scope of literature.
Things I didn’t like
1. Arthur, the priest/baby-daddy, spends the entire novel refusing to acknowledge is part in Hester’s suffering or to offer assistance to Hester. I mean the girl is raising his kid in public shame and abuse and he’s just like nope not my problem. I’m just going to continue being the public image of the most holy person ever and privately suffering from extreme guilt of all the crappy things I’ve done. True he does claim responsibility right before he dies but he doesn’t really have to deal with the repercussions of his actions. He just leaves Hester to deal with it all.
2. No redemption for poor Rodger. I for one am very sympathetic to Rodgers plight. Revenge rarely works to remove the pain we feel from being wronged, but what did the guy do to deserve being branded as the devil? So the priest who abandons the mother of his child and the child to the wrath of society gets to seek forgiveness and redemption, but Rodger who’s only crime is retaliation to a wrong against him, gets eternal damnation? I would have liked to see less vilification of Rodger and more exploration of redemption.
I loved this book! How could you not? It was surprisingly progressive in the way that it portrays Hester, her decision to reject society’s view of herself and to believe that there could be better for herself and her child. This is a must read!
Hawthorne, N. (1904). The Scarlet Letter. John Lane & Co.: London and New York.
Photo by David Reber
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