The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: A review by Maimoona Mushtaq

Woman hands framing distant sun rays

The Scarlet Letter is a classical fable of guilt and retrieval set in Puritan Massachusetts, has long stood as one of the greatest American novels written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American famous novelist and short-story writer. In the Novel, a single immoral act destroys the lives of three people, none more so than Hester Prynne, a beautiful, young, and dignified lady. She conceived a child out of wedlock and due to this sin she receives the public punishment of having to always wear a scarlet “A” on her clothing. She refuses to reveal the name of father of the child who is a priest, after her pregnancy is revealed. She does this because she wants him unharmed but her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, remains silent and safely unidentified, but is in extreme pain with guilt. For me this story, however, is far more tangled than Hester’s life.

Hester lives alone as her husband named Roger Chilling worth has sent her to do arrangement. Later He, who Hester thought had died by Native Americans, arrives at the moment of her public shaming. The story accounts the puritan society but Hester story takes place against a background of conservative social and religious codes.

The novel has entirely different belief system in spite of priest religious faith that he observes an alternative way of discern the world. Hawthorne while creating Dimmesdale, identifying that what is the characteristics of a true priest and same time he revealed that he could be a sinner.

This point of view of writer contradicts with the social norms, that he can only be considered a romantic male hero of story. In Christianity, priests are never accepted to be as sinner. The writer may be tries to uncover the bitter realities of society that confuses reader to believe what is good and what is bad. And I do not understand that how could Dimmesdale as hero fail to acknowledge his love for the heroine Hester when she is exposed as having baby and jailed?

Dimmesdale is presented as coward and cowardice for seven years period. He cannot be a hero. I think a few readers might have seen ”The Scarlet Letter” as an outstanding love story now a day but religiously it is a black spot on the face of church and character of Priest of that time when story was written. Dimmesdale hides his crime not only because Hester tells him to do that, he may not want to reveal his bad side to the society. It shows that woman is stronger than a man and there is not any reason to let her behind the back on man. They must be treated equal. Even other women of that community feel ashamed because of Hester’s sin.

I feel that Hester never have feeling of repentance even she knows that she has done something unethical and a great sin. She chooses the latter as honour instead of shame badge. It is visible when she steps out of the Boston jail and she carries her illegitimate baby in her arms but does not hide the ”A” she wears on her breast.

Her crime, though it will never be named in the book by more than an initial, is placed on exhibition. Yet she has converted the letter into her own statement by fantastic flourishes of gold embroidery. She is a biggest mystery beyond the reach not only of her fellow Bostonians but also of the reader. To the end of her story I have found her someone whose final meaning is as dubious as her reasons for exhibit the letter so that it looks like a badge of respect while it support her damnation.

Writer portrays Hester a rebel who does not follow the norms of the community. She wants to live free on her own and wants to do whatever she wants. I assumed while reading that the society is male dominated and women are not accepted doing work like them such as horse cart driving, bidding in the market for slaves even they do not sit on the back of horse like men. But the leader of community discuses every important issue with his wife and follows her suggestion that male dominance fly away before a woman.

A woman who is wife of a community leader is behind the giving the title badge. The story point out that we might call female as distinct from male that can not survive as individual as a member of community but only in order that next generation come into being. It shows Hypocrisy of society. Man wants women to follow him.

It also point out Hester’s husband Chillingworth’s prejudice that he sends his wife alone to do things which are his responsibility but after the incident he portrays himself as an innocent victim although he is also responsible equally. If he does not send her alone that would not be happen. Chillingworth is certainly not a lovable in the story. His attitude is not sentimental but of an investigator. He simply penetrates to the bottom of each, and discloses the hidden secrets but never announces them.

He may be presented as a black mailer or wants to revenge secretly because he might know that he is partially involved in this scenario. He does not want to show his real face to community. He has stopped his wife to reveal his identity as her husband in the community because he wants to take revenge. He does black magic and black magic is also a great sin. He is a wholly selfish one. He never loved Hester, just financially supporting her. He confesses his indifference with his wife but never try to overcome. According to him, whatever he does in not a sin, just people getting him wrong.

I conclude that “The Scarlet Letter” is a good piece of writing and all time famous but I feel that Hawthorne actually criticizing the church members and communities of that era and how they manipulate religion according to their desires. He is pointing at prejudice of societies in history and their religious point of view that only implemented on women.

The novel highlights the social and religious background of England. People have left religion and religious practices because of Church members and their reputations. He has actually tried to uncover some bitter realities of historical England.

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