The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter, a historical romance written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is known as an American Classic. 

It begins with a narration to the reader, a token of awareness and readiness to start the tale. In addition, the description of the prison suggests that the exposition will either begin or end with this as its conclusion. Nonetheless, the first few chapters serve to build upon atmosphere, symbolism, and the emergence of theme (which I’ll mention often throughout this review). 

To sum up what first occurs in The Scarlet Letter, Hester, our main character, is accused of adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her bosom. As Hester begins to adapt to this reality, she wonders about the value, weight, and depth of sin. In other words, she questions whether she’s the only “sinner” in town, as she concludes that she can’t be the only one to have ever been ungodly. Thus, Hawthorne awakens the need to call out religion’s insincere role and the impact it has on communities. 

Moreover, Hester births a daughter as a result of the affair; Pearl. This newborn, described as “elf-like” by the narrator, is a symbol that takes an important role. As Hester stands charged with an unholy crime, Pearl is hence a product of that “sin.” Therefore, she is another representation of the “A” that is woven into Hester’s clothes, a more intimate, organic consequence derived from Hester’s mistake. Furthermore, Hawthorne points out that though Pearl acts with an appropriate demeanor as anyone her age (rambunctious and childish), her actions are “defiled” by the perspective that she’s a demon, a misdeed due to her mother.  

A quote that carries great elements of figurative language is somewhat in the middle of the rising action, when Hester takes Pearl to the town’s church leaders in order to convince them not to seize her daughter. As she waits for them to address her, the narrator notes that “the shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne, and partially concealed her” (102). It’s implicit to readers that they should be able to make a connection between Hester’s sin and what the “shadow” from the curtain could mean – a form of taint within her, driven by human imperfection and fault. As a result, such examples illuminate Hawthorne’s ability to craft not just specific scenes, but also the smallest details that have a chance to foreshadow what’s to come next. 

I would also like to take a quick note on the language used, which can have an impact on a reader’s perspective of the era. To illustrate, phrases such as “thee” and “thy” hint at old English, those which were common in Shakespeare and in poems similar to Beowulf. Therefore, take the time to make sure this doesn’t make a major difference on your experience; if it does, re-read certain passages or write short annotations as possible interpretations of what’s addressed, said, or argued. 

Thus, The Scarlet Letter’s conclusion, though not the most fortunate, is one of redemption, and demonstrates that characters and readers alike can learn from mistakes within the consequences that impact our futures. Thence, coupled with Hawthorne’s expertise and style, allows this text to serve as a book worth its time. 

-Emilia D.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

2 thoughts on “The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  1. I already read this book for English class and I wish I was introduced to the book in this way. Also, I love your inclusion of the quote; I believe your review is very accurate.

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