7 November 2015

CURRENTLY READING: The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Image via Sparknotes.

I think some values are important -- for instance, I try to be a woman of my word. So, as promised, here are my thoughts on The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I've been assigned to read this book for my English class. One aspect that I really like about this book is that there aren't many characters introduced. I think it's a cool technique that encourages development of the characters who do exist, while also allowing the reader to relate more to them.

Another thing I love to see in literature is the discussion and interpretation of heavy, generally "taboo" subjects -- you know, the kind of topics that people are afraid to talk about in person. These can include politics, religion, death, and the bad versus the good features of society.

Because of that, I admire how The Scarlet Letter balances the religious ideals of the Puritan settlers with the discrimination that they inflict upon Hester. That is, the book is trying to relate characters' religious values (since religion is viewed by many people as a "good" thing) to characters' immediate instinct to ostracise Hester (since exclusion and such cruelty are often viewed as mean and "bad" things). The book explores how good things can become bad things, sometimes even without people's notice.

Anyway, as I said in the beginning of this post, I have some values. One of my values is (thankfully) becoming more prominent and popular among other people too -- that value is feminism. Even Hawthorne makes it clear in this book that the townspeople's poor treatment of Hester causes her unfair amounts of distress and shame.

And, even though Dimmesdale shows regret and shame of his own, the townspeople and religious figures in the book don't target him to the same extent as they do Hester, especially because Dimmesdale is a minister. That means that the dominant, religiously-powerful characters in the book (church leaders, clergymen, etc.) are more willing to overlook Dimmesdale's sin, yet they punish Hester's. And -- friendly reminder -- they both committed identical sins.

Yet, Hester is punished more harshly and more outright than Dimmesdale is. While Dimmesdale's consequences are more along the lines of self-punishment (and Chillingworth's vengefulness also punishes Dimmesdale), Hester loses privileges, some rights, and some career opportunities. She ends up on the scaffolds more than once, remember?

But, maybe that's just my interpretation. I do appreciate how Hawthorne portrayed these ideas; even though the book is set in a 1600s male-dominated society, it was written in the 1800s, when women's rights were slightly improved but still lacking.

Another thing that I love? Books that introduce new ideas -- in this case, the idea that women are humans worthy of having rights and privileges -- to show society what is wrong with some things and to suggest improvements.

That's part of why I like this book.

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