The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Our book club selection for June was The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was actually quite excited that this book was selected because I did not read it in high school like many other people. I think I remember the teacher having two class sets of books. One set was A Farewell to Arms and the other was The Scarlet Letter. My class got Hemingway, and let me say that I am now eternally grateful for that. I have been a huge fan of Hemingway ever since, but I am not certain I would have made it through The Scarlet Letter as a high school student. In fact, I was the only person other than my husband to finish it for book club.

The language was what I expected. I could have handled that if the story gave me anything at all to be interested in. Every time I thought something might happen, I was disappointed. I would compare Hawthorne to that guy who tells a joke and then winks to make sure you realized it was a joke. He just beats the reader over the head with the symbolism. We get it, Hester’s daughter is imp-like! Oh my gosh, the flowers are red like sin! Don’t even get me started on the prologue, which is apparently a critical masterpiece. The problem is most likely my penchant for sparse prose and carefully chosen words. Hawthorne didn’t choose words, he used them all with several commas in between.

You are probably getting the point that I was not a fan of The Scarlett Letter. I am all for reading the classics, and I usually enjoy them. They are classics for a reason, right? Well, I think the reason for this one is to put high school students off reading for good. Seriously, at least give them a choice of other early American authors.

Also, a note. The fact that I did not enjoy this book does not mean I was too stupid to understand it. It seems that every negative review of it on Goodreads has several comments from people who loved it noting that it is a bit inaccessible. It is actually fairly easy to read. I found Hawthorne’s writing style to be horrendous, regardless of the time period, but I was not too daft to get it. I read somewhere that Hawthorne’s books must be where all of Hemingway’s commas went.

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7 thoughts on “The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  1. Oh god, how I adored “The Scarlet Letter” in high school. I thought it was so darn MEANINGFUL. I wonder if I went back now if I’d just be annoyed by it … hmm. Might be worth re-reading!

    • I’m sure there are people who like it. 🙂 I’m just not one of them!

      Maybe I would have found it more meaningful as a high school student who hadn’t experienced as many other writers as I have now. In the context of the body of literature I’ve read, it just didn’t rate very well…

  2. It frustrates me that people often use classics as a trophy to prove some kind of intelligence. You don’t need to be brilliant to understand classics, the only time I think that you need to be smarter than the average bear is with works such as Shakespeare where its full of Old English similes and social context.

    Not all classics are these amazing pieces of work and having more or less intelligence does not change that.

  3. Oh I hated “The Scarlet Letter”! But Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown,” while in the same religious vein, is much more interesting and worth a read. Love the joke about Hemingway at the end, I absolutely adore Hemingway’s style.

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