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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Scarlet Letter

Firstly- sorry it took me so long! Life got in the way, and by 'life' I mean having two crazy kids under 3 and deciding to travel nearly 3,000 miles from home. But enough about me.

I never read The Scarlet Letter when I was in school, so I've heard about it, but had only the most vague idea of what it was about. Now that I've read it in its entirety I understand why it is a classic. It's beautifully written, has great character development, and a storyline which manages to stay relevant and relatable.

Long book short: Young and beautiful Hester Prynne arrives at a Puritan establishment in New England before her old and deformed husband gets there. A year passes, and nobody hears from Mr. Prynne. Hot young Hester hooks up with a hot young preacher (Aurthur Dimmesdale) and BAM! Hester gets knocked up with their hot young baby. Hester doesn't want to ruin the hot young preacher's reputation of being the best thing since Jesus, so she refuses to tell anyone who the father of her illicit love child is. Pregnancy goes on, baby is born (it's a girl!), and SURPRISE! Hester's creepy husband shows up after two years of not telling her anything only to see that she's had someone's baby. Luckily for him, no one has any idea who he is- so he tells Hester that since she ruined his life (*cough* total asshole! *cough*) she totally owes it to him to act like she doesn't know him so he can live his life as a doctor without his reputation being sullied by his whore wife. Oh, and he wants to know who baby's daddy is so he can destroy him. Hester refuses to tell him what he wants to know, so he vows to find out for himself and make the man's life a living Hell. The people of the town want Hester to be punished in various ways, but the young minister who shares Hester's secret calms them and votes for a milder sentence- a bright scarlet A (for 'adulteress') is to be worn on her breast at all times. So Hester stands on a platform and gets the letter pinned to her chest in front of the whole town. Hester and her baby girl, named Pearl, then go live out in the woods on the outskirts of town as outcasts.

Hester decorates her letter A using her amazing embroidery skills, her ex husband assumes the name of Roger Chillingworth and becomes a town doctor, and the virile young preacher begins getting more and more ill. Good old Roger Chillingworth figures out that the attractive preacher is Pearl's father, and becomes his personal physician so he can torment him without the preacher knowing that Roger is actually Hester's estranged husband.

Pearl becomes a precocious, intelligent child who doesn't fit in with her peers. She's beautiful and wild, and Hester makes beautiful clothes for her while keeping herself very plain.

The townsfolk at one point were going to try to take Pearl away from Hester because they didn't feel that Pearl was being brainwashed enough in accordance with Puritan doctrine, but sexy (kinda half dead looking by this point) preacher Dimmesdale steps in and changes their minds. Everyone assumes it is because he is pious and in touch with God- no one suspects that it is because he is actually Pearl's father.

Hester's embroidery skills make her an asset to the community, and since she remains sin-free aside from having a baby out of wedlock, she slowly regains some degree of respect from the townsfolk.

Some well-loved old guy dies late at night and a few key characters are milling about doing whatever it is that their specific character does. Aurthur is beating himself up psychologically for having loved Hester, for hiding the truth from the townspeople, and for being a big fat hypocrite because he's supposed to be all godly and stuff. Hester and Pearl walk by and see him, and we have a touching scene on the scaffold where Hester received her letter.

By this time, Roger Chillingworth is living with Aurthur Dimmesdale to 'take care of him' while he's ailing. But seriously... "Roger Chillingworth." How could they NOT know he was a bad guy? Anyway, Hester is pretty sick of his bullshit, so she decides that she's going to tell Dimmesdale what's going on...

Preacher Arthur Dimmesdale's health continues to deteriorate and he soon looks like the walking dead. He goes for a stroll in the woods, where he runs into Hester. Hester fesses up that Chillingworth is actually her estranged husband who wants to make him miserable until he's dead.

They talk and realize that they are still in love, and Pearl (now 7) figures out who her daddy is, but is angry that he won't publicly acknowledge them. Hester and Arthur talk of hopping on the next boat out of there and living happily ever after. They make plans to bail, and they begin trying up their personal affairs (ha ha- get it?) so they can sail off into the sunset.

Arthur has a big fancy sermon he's supposed to give for an election festival the day before he and Hester hop on a boat and sail away. So he finishes writing his speech, confident that it is his best sermon ever.

The day of the sermon arrives, and everyone gathers to hear it. Dimmesdale appears to have some of his old spark back, in spite of looking like he's going to keel over at any moment. He gives his sermon, and while he is speaking Hester learns that her good friend Chillingworth has booked himself on the same boat that she and Dimmesdale were using to make their escape. The sermon wraps up, the band marches on, and Dimmesdale spots Hester and Pearl near the scaffold where she was punished. Dimmesdale is so sick and emaciated that he can barely walk, but he stumbles over to Hester and asks her to help him climb the scaffold. They make it to the top, where he announces to everyone there that Pearl is his daughter. Pearl kisses him, and then he keels over dead. Chillingworth is devastated that he never got to complete his tormenting of Aurthur in the way he wanted because he's a stupid asshole who needs to get over shit.

Chillingworth dies a year later, and leaves a nice chunk of money to Pearl. Hester and Pearl leave, and many years later Hester comes back to live in her little cottage in the woods alone.

This is a seriously good book, and rightfully considered a literary classic. It is definitely a book of substance, I don't recommend if you're just looking for a brainless-yet-entertaining read. It should be read when you have time to chew it over and absorb its depth.

1 comment:

  1. I really disliked this book in high school, but books are so different when you come to them at different times in your life. I'm going to take your word that I would like it more if I read it again. I like your spin on it.