Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Scarlet Letter - Part 2

Whoo-hooo...I finished reading The Scarlet Letter!  It only took me a year ;-)  You may remember from a former post that I started reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel last January (2014).  Then restarted it in July and I'm excited to report that I finally made it through.

The Scarlet Letter tells the story of Hester Prynne, a Puritan woman punished for adultery in 17th century New England.   At the beginning of the story, Hester emerges from prison, carrying her newborn daughter, taking her place on the scaffold where she will be publicly condemned.  She refuses to admit the father of her baby and is sentenced to forever wear the scarlet letter "A", for adulter on her chest.

As the story unfolds, we find that Hester was sent to the New World from Europe by her husband, expecting that he would come later.  However, when he didn't arrive, she assumed him to be dead.  At some point, she had an extra marital affair and became pregnant.  Eventually, her husband surfaces under the pseudonym Roger Chillingworth posing as a physician who ends up taking care of the father of Hester's child.  From there, it becomes a twisted tangle of drama. 

I appreciated Hester Prynne's struggle.  I felt her character really developed and matured throughout the story.  In the final chapter, Hawthorne writes...

"And as Hester Prynne had no selfish ends, nor lived in any measure for her own profit and enjoyment, people brought all their sorrows and perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who had herself gone through a mighty trouble.  Women, more especially - in the continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion - or with the dreary burden of a heart unyielded, because unvalued and unsought - came to Hester's cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy!  Hester comforted and counseled them, as best she might.  She assured them, too, of her firm belief that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness."

I thought Hawthorne's use of alliteration and assonance (wounded, wasted, wronged,...unyielded,...unvalued...unsought...why...were....wretched....what) really brought it home.  As I read each word, I could almost feel myself sinking into despair.  And then, in that final sentence words like assured, brighter period, Heaven, new truth, revealed, surer ground, and mutual happiness, brought me back up again.  In the beginning of the story, Hester fell to the bottom of this despair.  As a result of her sin, she suffered extreme loneliness under the burden of the scarlet letter, raising a "devil like" child, loving and losing multiple times.  However, by God's grace she rose above her suffering to minister to others.  

This passage got me thinking how so often, in the midst of our struggle, we really long for someone to connect with and confirm our validity.  Someone who is/was broken and may even have danced in our shoes.  How time heals if we repent and accept God's grace.  Some of the best ministers, counselors, therapists have walked that mile in those shoes of hardship.  They know what it is to climb from the bottom of that barrel.  Hester was one of those counselors.  In my brokenness, I was struck by her strength and redemption.  I have thought of Hester a few times over the past week.  I wonder if we would have been friends...

I enjoyed The Scarlet Letter, however, Hawthorne is wordy.  I got bogged down more than once in his descriptions and had to go back and reread.  I personally think the story could have been rewritten to omit some of the descriptions without losing a bit of depth.  "In 1850, when the first edition of The Scarlet Letter was published, Hawthorne was known as a writer of tales, many of them having appeared in magazines and gift annuals, though three volumes of his tales saw publication in the decade before the novel appeared".   I recognized the first volume, Twice-Told Tales.

After finishing The Scarlet Letter, I'm ready to try something a bit lighter for my next read.  Stay tuned for new books I'm reading into the New Year....

No comments:

Post a Comment