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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intense human drama that transcends literature itself
The Scarlet Letter is truly one of literature's greatest triumphs, its characters and themes reverberating in our collective consciousness more than 150 years after its initial publication. Few novels inspire as much contemplation and feeling on the part of the reader. Hester Prynne, American fiction's first and foremost female heroine continues to haunt this world,...
Published on 22 Dec 2002 by Daniel Jolley

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why so critical
I find some of the criticism of this book inexplicable and harsh.

It is essentially a romantic novel with Hester as the woman who has wronged by committing adultery and a woman wronged against by the judgemental puritanical community. Hester along with her lover feel overwhelmingly the wrong they have committed. Hester wears her adultery rounder her neck...
Published on 9 Dec 2010 by Stubs


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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intense human drama that transcends literature itself, 22 Dec 2002
By 
Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA) - See all my reviews
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The Scarlet Letter is truly one of literature's greatest triumphs, its characters and themes reverberating in our collective consciousness more than 150 years after its initial publication. Few novels inspire as much contemplation and feeling on the part of the reader. Hester Prynne, American fiction's first and foremost female heroine continues to haunt this world, inspiring a never-ending stream of scholarly debate. Even in our less puritanical age, some doubtless see her as a villainously great temptress, but to me she is a remarkably brave hero indeed. Her sin is known to all, and she never runs away from it, bearing the scarlet letter on her bosom bravely for all to see; she realizes the true measure of that sin, fretting constantly over the effects it will have on young Pearl, remaining steadfast in her beliefs while at the same time envisioning a new society where women and men can exist on more equal terms, free of the stultifyingly harsh punishments meted out on even the most repentant of souls by Puritanism. She shows her noble spirit by refusing to name her partner in sin and goes so far as to allow the ruthless Roger Chillingworth to torment the man she loves deeply enough to protect him for all time. Little Pearl is somewhat of an enigma, truly manifesting traits of both the imp and the little angel; her questions about the letter her mother wears and the minister who continually holds his hand against his heart reflect an insight that amazes this reader. Chillingworth is a thoroughly black-hearted man; I can certainly understand the blow he sustained as a result of Hester's sin, but his actions and thirst for prolonged revenge on the so-called perpetrator of the wrong he suffered can only be described as roguish and unpalatable.
Of course, the most complex character in the novel (and literature as a whole) is the good minister Arthur Dimmsdale. One is compelled to both like him and despise him. He is basically a good man and an unquestionably fine soldier in the army of the Lord, winning many souls to God with his impassioned sermons. He is more aware than anyone else of his sinful nature, and he punishes himself quite brutally in private in a useless attempt to make up for the public ignominy he lacks the moral courage to call upon himself with a public profession of his deed. Dimmsdale is a coward and a hypocrite. At one critical moment in the latter pages of the novel, he blames Hester for his state of misery, and it is that comment in particular that makes this tragic character a man I can only commiserate with to a limited degree. Even at the penultimate moment of the novel, as he finally bears the mark of his shame and guilt for all his parishioners to see, the very men and women who have viewed him as a saintly man of God rather than the brigand he knows himself to be, he does not openly confess-his words and deeds do make plain the secret of his heart, but it is his lack of a thoroughly bold confession that causes some of his most devoted followers, so Hawthorne tells us, to blindly judge his final act as an illustrative parable on the danger of sin threatening each member of his congregation rather than an admission of guilt and self-condemnation.
It upsets me to see readers who do not appreciate this novel as one of the earliest and best American classics, a novel that contributed greatly to the establishment of a literary culture in the young country. The language is of a more florid style than today's readers are used to, but this novel is in no way boring. Hawthorne paints some of the most vivid scenes of human drama I have ever witnessed; he writes in such a way that you are there in colonial Boston watching the story play out before your very eyes, struggling to come to terms with your own feelings in regard to such complex and sometimes inscrutable characters. The climactic chapter is truly and deeply moving, more than capable of bringing tears to the eyes of the sensitive soul. The Scarlet Letter is just a brilliant, gripping, thoroughly human novel that I wish everyone could appreciate as much as I do.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating., 14 Mar 1999
By A Customer
I am a 48 year old college student reading The Scarlet Letter for the first time. In fact, I have never read any of Nathaniel Hawthorne's works before--doesn't say much for my high school. Hawthorne's use of imagery and double meanings captivated me. ANALYSE ANYTHING--EVERYTHING HAS ANOTHER MEANING. I couldn't wait to read the next page and get to class to discuss it. When I read the passages again, I found more hidden meanings. I've gone on to read more of his works since and would now like to find out more about his family heritage. His family was involved in the Salem witch trials and the persecution of the Quakers during the 17th century. It has been suggested that this has influenced in his writings about guilt, shame, sin, & alienation.
I loved his allegorical treatment of the emotional ramifications brought on by social, family, and religious situations. What was chillingworth's sin anyway? Who cheated on who? I would say that the "goody-two shoe" minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, was the real villain. He never confessed to save Hester and Pearl until his dying day; he had nothing to personally gain by keeping his secret.
I "feel" for all the high school kids that do not appreciate or understand Hawthorne's stories. I suggest that you go to a quiet place, without interruptions--take the phone off the hook, and read. It will take time to get going; a little research would help. Coming to this site is a start. See what others think about his writing--BUT DON'T GIVE UP. You may even have to admit that you like it
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why so critical, 9 Dec 2010
By 
I find some of the criticism of this book inexplicable and harsh.

It is essentially a romantic novel with Hester as the woman who has wronged by committing adultery and a woman wronged against by the judgemental puritanical community. Hester along with her lover feel overwhelmingly the wrong they have committed. Hester wears her adultery rounder her neck literally whereas her lover hides it under his heart. And the real evidence of their love is their child - the elfish, unreal Pearl. I think that it is fairly obvious from the outset that this is going to be an uhappy story but the strength of Hester shines through the book. She is a throughly modern heroine.

What I dislike about the book is the narrative. The reader feels that they are going to preached to by Hawthorne who is obsesed by guilt.

But a really decent book on the whole.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first masterpiece of American literature, 5 Nov 2006
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," might well be Nathaniel Hawthorne's theme in The Scarlet Letter. Certainly, by all community standards Hester Prynne's adultery is a sin. Worse yet Arthur Dimmesdale has triply sinned since he has had carnal knowledge of a member of his flock, and through a deep and abiding cowardice has failed to acknowledge his sin; and what is even worse yet, he allows Hester to bear the weight of public condemnation alone.

However the worse sin of all belongs to Roger Chillingworth, Hester's husband who is not dead at all, but returned in disguise as a physician who has learned the efficacy of various medicinal concoctions from the Indians during his captivity. He pretends to befriend Dimmesdale in order to extract his long and torturous revenge. But it is Chillingworth's character itself more than anything that marks him as the worse of the sinners. He lives only for revenge and to give pain and suffering. He cares nothing for his wife and her child. He cares nothing for anyone, not even himself. He lives only to avenge.

Dimmesdale's sin is that of a weak character. In a sense Dimmesdale is Everyman, the non-heroic. We see the contrast between the proud bravery of Hester and the all too human weakness of Dimmesdale who cannot bring himself to confess his sin, but looks to her strength to do it for him. We see this in the first scaffold scene as he pleads along with Chillingworth for Hester to reveal the father's identity. "Reveal it yourself!" we want to say.

While some have seen Chillingworth as the devil incarnate--and indeed I suspect that was Hawthorne's intent--it might be closer to the truth to see him as the vengeful God of the Old Testament with his lust to mysterious power and his desire to see the sinful suffer. At any rate, Hawthorne's masterpiece--and it is a masterpiece, one of the pillars of American literature, to be ranked with such great works as Melville's Moby-Dick and Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--is about sin and the effect of sin; and this is only right since the central tenet of Christianity itself is sin and the forgiveness of sin.

By employing and investigating deeply three types of sin--Hester's from love and even something close to innocence; Dimmesdale's from lust, pride, neglect and cowardice; and Chillingworth's from hate--Hawthorne came up with a most felicitous device for examining the human soul.

The Scarlet Letter is regularly taught at the high school level, but surely this is a mistake. The novel is difficult and challenging even for honors students. The architectured sentences, with their points and counterpoints, their parallel construction, their old school rhetorical cadences are strange and even wondrous to the modern eye. It is a good practice for the teacher and for the student to read aloud Hawthorne's prose so as to grow accustomed to his words the way one must for Shakespeare. If this is done and the edifice of Christianity and especially the fatalism of the Puritan mind brought to bear, then with leisurely pace and a steady concentration, the terrible beauty of Hawthorne's novel might be made immediate.

Although the story itself is compelling, and the prose rich and poetic, the real strength of this great novel is in its characters. How true to life are all of them including even little Pearl who is defiant and willful in her beauty and her promise, so like a heroine-to-be of a modern novel. And how despicable and loathsome is this bent old man who embodies the very soul of the despised! And how attractive on a superficial level is this pretty young pastor whose actions are not the equal of his looks. And how strong and faithful and heroic is Hester who invites both envy and admiration, something like a flawed goddess of yore.

What stuck me when I first read this, and remains with me today, is that it is those who presume to punish sin who are the real sinners. Chillingworth's life is one devoid of human feeling, devoid of any real joy as he lies in the stone cold bed of hatred and revenge. And to a lesser extent so it is with Dimmesdale who cannot forgive himself, who secretly flagellates himself so that his life becomes a hell on earth. On the other hand there is Hester who finds forgiveness and love with good works and in the joy of her beautiful and precious Pearl and in her unstinting love for Dimmesdale and her hope and faith that a better life will come.

This is a deeply Christian novel although it is usually seen as a criticism of Christianity in the sense that the Christian community condemns the least of the sinners while the hypocrisy of its clergy is made manifest. Looking deeper we see that it is forgiveness of sin and the redemption that comes from good works that is exemplified. Hester knows the joy of life because she is a loving and giving person; and on another level she is forgiven because we the reader forgive her. How could we not? And most of the Puritan flock also forgave her since it came to be said that the scarlet "A" she wore upon her person stood not for "Adultery" but for "Able."

It is also good to realize that when Hawthorne published the novel in 1850 the scene of the story was nearly two hundred years removed. Thus Hawthorne looked back at Puritan America from the standpoint of a more secular society greatly influenced by Jeffersonian deism and the transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau. In some respects, Hawthorne's brilliant treatment of the ageless theme of sin, guilt and redemption was a serendipitous, even unconscious, artifact of his literary skill. No artist composes a masterpiece without some deep talent at work independent of his conscious efforts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timeless Classic, 20 Aug 1999
By A Customer
In this book, Hawthorne has truly captured the human spirit. However, it is not a work for the simple-minded. Those who do not fully understand it fail to appreciate the precision and genius with which it was written. Hester is such a strong character; as she struggles to win back the respect of the community, she regains her self-respect, which, she realizes, is ultimately more important. Hawthorne sets Rev. Dimmesdale, a very weak character, opposite Hester perfectly. Chillingworth is, in fact, "chilling," and little Pearl is a troublemaker but grows to be much like her mother. The book is a slow read but well worth the wait. It's full of symbolism -- pay close attention to the rose bush (first mentioned within the first chapter, so be alert!) and the significance of "mirrors."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Scarlet Letter a cracker, 27 May 2012
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Strange and disturbing story beautifully written. Produced well for Kindle.
Illustrations excellently reproduced and added to the pleasure of reading this book which is a true gothic tale of American Puritanical treatment of women.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Roots of Our Double Standard, 27 May 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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Few novels capture the essence of a different time like The Scarlet Letter. Yet reading this novel about strict moral rules leaves one with a difference sense about today's society. Very often a woman who has a child out of wedlock today experiences severe judgments from those around her. Yet the man involved will often stay hidden and not be subject to the same sanctions. Perhaps less changes than we think.
Reading this book also provides an uplifting view of the potential for goodness in how well Hester Prynne bears her shame and raises her child. You will also come away with a renewed appreciation for the strength that women often bring to tough situations. The courage to face a disapproving society with little in the way of emotional support is probably greater than the courage needed to face physical danger. You cannot help but appreciate Hester as a symbol of true courage.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the Puritan beginnings of modern American culture.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic American tale, 26 Sep 2005
By 
HORAK (Zug, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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In this classic tale written in 1850, N. Hawthorne tells the tragic tale of a fallen woman, Hester Prynne. In his essay entitled "The Custom House", the author pretends to have found a mysterious relic of cloth in the shape of the letter along with a manuscript in which a certain Jonathan Pue described the letter's wearer.
Thus the character of Hester Prynne was born, this adulteress who has to wear the shameful letter A embroidered on her garment in scarlet letter and insolent gold thread. Her error is adultery and the Puritan magistrates of colonial Boston decided that she should wear the bright letter affixed to her breath. In the opening scene, Hester is standing dishonoured before the town holding another man's child just as her long-lost husband Roger Chillinworth arrives in Boston. The story is tightly constructed and takes place in 24 chapters with the action in the first, the twelfth and the last revolving around the scaffold on which Hester suffers her punishment. The structure is taught and essentially limited to the description of the three adult characters of Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth, each in turn wearing various masks to hide themselves from the failures of the human heart. Hester never reveals her lover's identity thus protecting her from public disgrace but not from his interior sense of guilt. At any rate she is a strong character, a rebel dwelling in solitude which grants her freedom of thought, particularly concerning the fate of women: "The world's law was no law for her mind" the author writes. To the reader she appears as a fascinating creature, captivating, rebellious, even intimidating. The dénouement is equally startling. After Hester's daughter Pearl marries, she returns to the small abandoned cottage and resumes her former life, not being able to remain an expatriate, the scarlet letter now voluntarily clamped to her bosom as if it were part of her true identity. Her triumph finally lies in her willingness to take up the mark that identifies her as a woman.
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5.0 out of 5 stars THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN, 7 July 1999
By A Customer
From the beginning chapter of this novel, I was compelled to read on. The use of diction and the author's attidude toward the character's and their behaviors make the novel appeal to a more variety of audiences. Hester's attitude throughout the novel shows a willingness to go on to the end, even though she was shunned away by the townspeople. If you are at all interested in romances, mysteries, prejudice,gothic styles of writing and the beliefs of the Puritan lifestyle I strongly recommend that you read this novel.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic with a timeless message, 9 Sep 2004
The aims of The Scarlet Letter are not a critique of the puritans per se, a comment on the plight of single mothers or indeed to even fully develop its characters.
The primary aim is to show the potential and power of any individual to question the status quo, philosophically, religiously and socially; and where such quo is shown to be logically wrong, to live with pride and honour and to achieve personal triumph over adversity and irrationality.
Hawthorne quite ingeniously communicates his message through the powerful and poetic symbolism of the scarlet letter, the puritans, the setting and indeed his incomplete characters. Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, Pearl and to an extent Hester are perhaps slightly two-dimensional characters but this is by no means a weakness as they serve the purpose of the book rather than the other way around.
One only has to look around at the multitude of prejudices and indeed silent discrimination against many groups that still exist in society today to realise that the Scarlet Letter is still very relevant.
The scarlet letter remains a placeholder for any prejudice that still burns the heart of so many unfortunate bearers and unquestionably, a literary classic.
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