Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Scarlet Letter, by Nathanial Hawthorne

Book image courtesy of Modern Library

Read and reviewed in April, 2010. Released later

I thought I had read this book in high school or college. I remembered bits of it, but I really don't think I actually read it all until now.

I remember disliking the preacher, Arthur Dimmesdale, thinking he was a jerk and a hypocrite, letting Hester take all the blame, and getting off scot-free, but that wasn't actually the case at all. He suffered, too, knowing that he was guilty. He suffered a disease of the heart, and was physically, spiritually, and perhaps even a little mentally ill. He and Hester loved each other throughout the span of the story, seven years. (more than seven years, because Pearl was a babe in arms when the story began, so there was about a year from her conception at that time.) They never stopped loving each other, although I fail to see what she saw in him. Rather than the arrogant jerk that I thought I remembered, Mr. Dimmesdale was morally and physically weak, sickly, and pitiful. He clung to Hester, depending on her strength.

Hester, on the other hand, was the epitome of quiet dignity. She bore her shame openly, but humbly served the community that shunned her by attending their bedsides when they were sick and dying, and by the lovely garments she sewed and embroidered. She made everything from baptismal gowns to official robes of office and ceremony, to burial shrouds -- everything except wedding gowns. She lived her life alone, with no one but little Pearl for company.

Pearl was a free-spirited child, full of energy and wise beyond her years. She asked her mother some very pointed questions concerning the frail and sickly pastor, which made Hester very uncomfortable.

It saddened me that, though this was supposed to be a Christian community, there was so little Christ-centered love and forgiveness evident. Hester's and Arthur's story was all about guilt and punishment, but forgiveness was lacking.

We can't forget the husband, old Roger Chillingworth. His very name gives me the chills! He seemed to be the image of the devil himself, or a man possessed by the devil. He was Arthur's accuser and avenger, "prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8)

A strange book, short but not easy to plow through, with all the old-fashioned discourses and language.

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