Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

One of the most beloved of classical American literature, "The Scarlet Letter," is a novel and also letter of sorts written to all of us; a warning and a love letter from the hand of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the brilliant and gifted writer from New England who lived and worked not far away from the streets and times of which he sets his novel.  

Hawthorne lived in the Sudbury area of Massachusetts, not more than a couple of hours inland from the Plymouth Colony.  He was a contemporary of Walden and Alcott.  A spiritual man, but not a "religious" one, Hawthorne also wrote short stories.  One of his most famous short stories (which you can download free from Gutenberg Press) is called "Young Goodman Brown," another morality tale that will live long in your heart and mind.

"The Scarlet Letter," is Hawthorne's best known and beloved work.  It takes place in a MA Colony in the Puritan times.

Hester Pryne, the misbehaving woman who is ruled to wear the scarlet letter "A" (in question) for adultress, is beautiful, strong-minded and more admirable than most of the Puritans who blame and shun her. She is an honest woman caught in the web of star-crossed-love-gone-adrift, because her lover and father of her bastard child is the colony preacher! Hester does all she can to protect him and he does all he can to withstand his guilt and to find peace of heart and spirit in a Puritan society shifted so far afield that no one can see the truth or the good for the "letter" of the Law.

"The Scarlet Letter" is a deeply moving love story, but it is also a story of fear and distortion. It's a story of what can, and probably did, happen in a world where reason is set aside and mass hysteria takes over...where common sense mixed with spiritual insight is dashed by strict adherence to the law without compassion.

Those who have never read this book have missed a part of the American experience. I hope if you are one of those people, you will correct that situation soon and for your better good!

I first read it in 1967, and have reread it many times since then with new insights and pleasures every time. I even have a granddaughter named Pearl, after Hester's little treasure and my grandmother!   Pearl, the wild and free-spirited child who was honest and one with nature and God...the precious one.
This book has gone through so many re-issues and so many covers that I couldn't take up all the space showing them here.  The last is an interesting one to me because we now find it in the latest "Manga Edition" which is written by Adam Sexton and Yali Lin.  Even in 2010, more than 100 years after its original publication, this classic is being interpreted for America's young and old, and for the Nations, too.  Amazing and wonderful!


PS:   I have to add that as I was studying Women's Studies in College in the late 1980's, "The Scarlet Letter" was a book that came to my mind.  Hester Pryne was a strong woman role model.  She seemed to me to be the best in a feminist example.  I think she must have affected young women as such when the book was first published. 

No comments: