Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne investigates the human condition in a very compelling way.

Set in Puritan Boston it explores what happens to the very souls of primarily three individuals when as sin is committed and discovered. It also criticises early Americans for their views on sin and who has committed it.

The three individuals at the centre of the story are Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. At the beginning of the novel it is revealed that married Hester Prynne has committed adultery and as an adulteress she is forced to wear the Scarlet Letter "A" at her bussom. The story then goes on to show how she uses her sin to do good. As the story progresses we find out that her partner in crime is the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale who does not confess to his part in the crime. He is then eaten up from the inside by his guilt. Roger Chillingworth is Hester Prynns estranged much older husband who does not addmit to this to the population in Boston but passes himself off as a doctor who treats Reverened Dimmesdale as he becomes physically ill from his guilt.

Hawthorne makes use of extensive symbols and metaphores in the telling of his story. Perhaps the most important of these symbols is the Scarlet letter itself which becomes and outward symbol of Hester's sin but also comes to symbolise her making of herself. As the novel progresses it is remarked that the "A" has now come to symbolise Able as Hester helps around the society in a way other women cannot. In the end the symbol becomes so much a part of her that her own daughter will not come to her if she wears it.

I thuroughly enjoyed this book. I found it had a lot to say about how we make ourselves into who we are. I suppose it is the American in me that feels that it is far more important what the sum total of us is rather than one or two outward symbols. It is what we do with those symbols that matters.

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