Often required reading in high school English classes, THE SCARLET LETTER tells the story of Hester Prynne’s disgrace following adultery in a Puritan community and the moral anguish of her partner in sin. She wears the famous red letter and does good deeds, while he wastes away under the care of a sinister physician.
This is one of those books that I just haven’t gotten around to reading before now, but I was surprised by the relevance of its themes. The book is really about the young minister and his rapid decline as the weight of his guilt increases. Hester is a bit too perfect, despite the obvious, and the truly reprehensible people are the “good” folks in the town.
A particularly interesting theme is the strong connection between the characters’ moral and physical states. As Hester atones for her actions by helping the poor and generally doing everything right, she appears even more beautiful. As the minister carries around his dark secret while pretending to be a spiritual leader, he becomes even more ill. As the physician carries out his physical and psychological revenge he becomes even more ugly.
The moral themes in the book are fairly straightforward, but the execution of the story is excellent. The sprightly child provides an odd but welcome juxtaposition with the somber mood of colonial Massachusetts. The pressure builds to a satisfying conclusion and prompts an examination of hypocrisy and the debilitating effects of guilt.
Nathaniel Hawthorne does not have an author website. Try this site for more information: http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/
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Do you think the confession of the minister is inevitable?