The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

 

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The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne from Salem, Massachusetts, a US State in New England. This was a puritan era when moral purity was encouraged in every aspect of life, public life and personal life. The main character Hester Prynne is forced to wear the embroidered Scarlet letter ‘A’ on her clothing after being found guilty of adultery which was a crime.

The novel is written in a third person narrative, which the exception of the introduction where Nathaniel Hawthorne speaks directly to the reader, talking about his experience working at the Salem Custom House. The introduction describes the people that he worked with impolitely “I characterize them generally as a set of wearisome old souls, who had gathered nothing from worth preservation from their varied experience of life” (p.g 13) and their work ethic “mighty was their fuss about little matters, and marvellous sometimes, the obtuseness that allowed greater ones to slip through their fingers.” (p.g 12) One particular man he commented “My conclusion was that he had no soul, no heart, no mind; nothing.” (p.g 14) In the preface to the second edition it explains that these comments and the introduction to The Scarlet Letter caused an “unprecedented excitement” in the community that the author was talking about. “It could hardly have been more violent, indeed, had he burned down the Custom house, and quenched its last smoking ember in the blood of a certain venerable personage, against whom he is supposed to cherish a particular malevolence” and the author responds to criticism saying it was written with no ill feeling and it was true so he decided to republish the introduction without changing it, shows slight hostility towards the Custom house.

“BUT WHO CAN SEE AN INCH INTO FUTURITY BEYOND HIS NOSE?”

A native American character is described as Indian (a historical inaccuracy) and his clothing is described as “savage” compared to the clothing the puritans wear, which is described as “civilised” an antonym showing puritan dress in a positive way, while showing Native outfits as opposite to this, a negative trait. Also, the devil, or a demon the characters believe to exist, in the book is called “the black man,” that is the description for him. There are other negative associations with the word black throughout “vileness and blackness” and “black trouble of the soul” describing an illness.

Hester Prynne is cast out of the community so the other puritans do not speak to her in public and the puritan children attempt to throw stones at her and her daughter Pearl. “She was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere”. The only people who speak to her are the ministers and the governor, who attempt to take her daughter out of her care and have her raised by someone else. Hester argues that she should have custody of the child so they relent “God gave me the child! cried she. He gave her in requital of all things else which ye have taken from me.” The governor’s sister, who is later executed accused of being a witch, also talks to her to encourage her to join witchcraft but Hester refuses.

The word ‘ignomany’ and variations such as ‘ignominious’ appears throughout the book, approximately 20 times in the 200 page book. It means public shame or disgrace and also public contempt. Hester Prynne faces this until her death and her lover is eventually revealed in a plot twist. There is not much dialogue at the beginning of the book, as the main character does not have any interaction with other characters, because she is publicly treated with contempt and the people treat Pearl the same way because of her illegitimacy. Hester and her lover are eventually buried together in a grave marked “On a field, Sable, the letter A, Gules” meaning “On a field, black, the letter A, red”

Links

The Salem House & Nathaniel Hawthorne

https://www.nps.gov/sama/learn/historyculture/hawthorne.htm

Meaning behind the word ‘ignomany’

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ignominy

Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nathaniel-Hawthorne

Background of the Salem Witch Trials

http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials

My Twitter thread while reading ‘The Scarlet Letter’

https://twitter.com/xlaurenhw/status/909435733554974720

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August Book Haul

We’re now in August and I was recently walking along the high street when I approached a small book shop. I went inside and picked up a few more books that were on sale. This is going to be a small break from my 2017 reading list that I will link below. I will finish Dracula and then begin reading the new books I have bought because they are not as long.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

This is described on the blurb as an “unconventional ghost story” it was written by an American author, who later acquired British citizenship. He Is a key figure of 19th century literary realism. The book was published in 1898 and is a horror and gothic fiction. It is open to different interpretations.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This has been on my reading list for a while as I have heard about it for several years and I have seen the film released in 2009 that is based on the book. This is the first book I will have ever read by Oscar Wilde and I am looking forward to reading one of his most popular works. Published in 1890, The picture of Dorian Gray caused outrage in the Victorian era for its portrayal of London life.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I have heard of Harper Lee’s classic novel numerous times and it explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South in the 1930’s. It concerns the prejudice, violence and hypocrisy of a town in Southern America.

The Hobbit by J.R.Tolkien

This is a modern classic and is also the prelude to The Lord of the Rings, the popular fantasy novels. In the blurb it is described as ‘One of the best-loved children’s books of modern times’ and I think it will be similar to Narnia which I really enjoyed. Published in 1937, it is still very popular. I also noticed that there are lots of adaptions for stage, screen, radio and video games.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is a modern fantasy novel written in 2011 that was long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012. It is a fantasy novel set in Victorian London and is about a fictional circus that only appears at night, and disappears in the daytime. It is slow-moving, but once the story gets underway it could be an interesting read.

 

Links

Ban on reading To Kill a Mockingbird in schools in Virginia

‘To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn banned from Virginia schools for racism’

The reading list for 2017

2017 reading list

Dorian Gray film review

Dorian Gray (2009) film review