A retrospective view of 'The Scarlet Letter' by a high school junior.
‘The Scarlet Letter’ is a book that is well known for its infamous letter “A”, and all that it defines. But, unless you truly read this book, you don’t get to be enveloped with the melodramatics that oozes on nearly every page. Now I’m not one to get into books of these sorts. I thought I would despise this book as I did while reading William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I liked the story behind it, but reading it nearly drove me insane as I tried to understand the weird word choice of the day. But, as I read the ‘Scarlet Letter’, I found myself flipping through the pages eagerly wanting to find out what would happen next. But more than ever this book frustrated me. Every event and every confrontation made me question “Why?”, if not want to pull my hair out due to the dramatics of it all.
Let’s start with the nosy gossipers that dwelled within the small colony of Boston. I truly do understand where they are coming from. Even in this day and age a women, or a man, would defiantly be viewed harshly for cheating on a spouse. But, I believe, they shouldn’t have gathered or even talked about it as they did. Some of the alternative punishments that they discussed were absolutely horrifying! And, for all they knew, Mr. Prynne could have died. Or, he could have gotten rid of his young wife and started a new family. No one knows! All they knew was that her husband had been, for lack of better phrase, a no show for nearly two years. But to stoop so low as to say they should have “...put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead.” is absolutely ludacris and disgusting. BUT, I do realize that this was a different time, with different viewpoints.
Now let’s move onto little Pearl. Many questions arose the more I read about little Pearl. Her personality perplexed me. Why would this child act the way she had? You come to find out her mother, Hester, is almost saint like. So what made Pearly so devious? I’m almost positive Hester would have raised Pearl to have the utmost respect towards others, because she knows how harshly Pearl would be judged because of her mother’s mistakes. So why would Pearl behave in such a way? She acts up at the governor’s house. She acted strangely before people and was an absolutely mischievous in the way she goes about things. One of my favorite remarks from her is the one she makes to Mr. Wilson at the age of five, when he asked her who had made her. She knew the answer, she was taught that the heavenly father had made her, yet she answers differently. “The child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison door.” She knew that the adults would have been upset by her answer, because she knew it was wrong.
Not only is this little “elf child” mischievous, but she is incredibly intelligent for her age. I believe that she figured out whom her father was when she was five. I believe she was even harder on Dimmesdale than Hester was on him. I think she comprehended the betrayal that Dimmesdale had shown towards them, if not on the fullest form, but of the simplest. She put two and two together as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. It makes you question why no one in the colony was able to do the same. But, little Pearl refuses to let her father off the hook so easily. When they stand on the scaffold at night together holding hands, she asked if they could all do so the following day at about noon in front of everyone. She gave him a hard time about this and said he had no problem holding their hands at night when no one was around, but was too much of a chicken to do so in public. To me, it seems like Pearl was the only one with any sense. She seemed real, in the sense that she wasn’t overly dramatic. She’s like the punisher of Hester and Dimmesdale wrapped in a tiny package.
The one character that I found to be most bothersome was Dimmesdale. If I could describe him in one word, it would be MELODROMATIC! He had no spine and wallowed in self-pity throughout the whole book. He had this illness that is caused by the guilt he felt about everything in regards to the scarlet letter. He always gripped at his heart as if it were causing him immense pain. During the whole book, I was on the edge of my seat, biting back my tongue as I read about the whiniest man ever! Yes, I can understand being guilty, but his character just radiated self-pity. There was one point where he had said that he had suffered more than Hester because he had to live with his guilty continuous. Seriously? Hester had to deal with the constant ridicule for her actions for seven years, by herself, might I add, and he is complaining for not telling anyone. She had been tortured by being socially isolated from the town’s people because she is marked with the letter A on her bosom, while he walks around with “Saint” written across his forehead and townspeople worshipping the ground he walked on. So for him to even say he had it rough all those seven years is like saying a millionaire doesn’t have enough money to buy something off the dollar menu at McDonalds. It makes zero sense! Is it obvious that I absolutely loath this character?
Not only is Dimmesdale whiny, but he is also, absolutely clueless! He does not figure the true identity of Chillingworth until Hester reveals it. But I can’t help but wonder what he thought when Chillingworth spotted them up on that scaffold holding hands in the dead of night. I know that he had feared him at that time, but why didn’t he think, Hmmm, I wonder why this guy isn’t accusing me right now of being Pearls father. No, he didn’t put those puzzle pieces together. Even though he feared Chillingworth, he still lived with him! Common sense says that if you fear someone, don’t live with him! It’s as simple as that. But Dimmesdale wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
The other thing that bothered me is the way Dimmesdale told everyone the truth. Hester, Pearl, and himself were planning on running away, and starting a new life together. They planned to run to a place where no one would judge them and no one would call their love a sin. A fresh start, which the three of them craved ever so much. But, Dimmesdale ruins it. Go figure. He stands before the all the people on the scaffold in the market place and confesses that he was the one who slept with Hester! That he is the father of little Pearl. And then, after he’s done with his confessions, he dies! He basically left Hester and Pearl to deal with the aftermath of his confessions. I have no doubt that this threw them all the way back to square one. But this time, they’ll be judged more harshly because Hester had corrupted the man they had worshiped. I believe that Dimmesdale, being the spineless man that he is, took the easy way out! For seven years Hester was looked down upon because of her actions, while Dimmesdale was worshipped by every single soul in the colony. She did not have a soul to talk to about her issues. Not once, did she walk around with her child without having judgmental eyes fall upon her. She became strong, because she had no choice. Right after he reveals the truth, he dies, taking the easy and cowardly way out. Even Chillingworth told Hester that he didn’t want to kill her because that would be the easy way out of all of this. Maybe he should have had this discussion with Dimmesdale. After all, they did live together for several years.
Chillingworth is quite a peculiar man himself. His appearances are quite out of the ordinary, as was his knowledge on medicinal treatments. One thing that puzzled me on old Chillingworth is the fact that no one recognized him! I’m sure that there were people who knew Hester and her husband before coming to the new world. It’s not like Hester and her husband lived in a secluded part of the world, where no one saw them. Even if they never saw him, they probably knew of him because of his intelligence and surly the fact of his age and the strangeness of his appearance. How come no one put two and two together?
Another thing that puzzled me is the reason as to why Hester, this beautiful young woman, married Mr. Prynne (Chillingworth), an old, decrepit, and eerily intelligent man in the first place. She obviously did not love him. It’s a question as to whether it was done due to money issues Hester’s family had experienced, or perhaps it was the best thing for her. Either way, I cannot picture Hester going through with any of this. She was a very strong woman whom had cared for a child without any help from anyone. She was also a very proud woman as we can see in the beginning of the book. So why, on earth, would she marry this man that she had no feelings for?
I also pondered why Chillingworth left a considerate amount of his property to Pearl… This child was not his. If anything, she was the living embodiment that his relationship with Hester never worked, and never would. Perhaps he felt bad for the child, who had been judged before she ever left her mother’s womb. Maybe he saw himself in the “elf child” whom had a fascination with nature as he himself had. She was always making things with plants just as he did. Maybe he still loved Hester. In loving Hester, he had come to love little Pearl whom was a piece of her. Maybe this love left him to give his things to Pearl as to guarantee that she would always be taken care of, in hopes that Hester will see this and appreciate it after he was gone. Perhaps, he had seen that the only reason Hester had married him was because of her money issues. And as a way of say sorry, he gave Pearl all this wealth so that she would never have to marry for that reason.
As I read this book, I came to admire Hester Prynne. She took her punishment in stride, which is very courageous of her. Most people, in any day and age, would have reacted much differently. As humans, we strive for the acceptance of our peers. Hester, hardly having a friend in this foreign land, didn’t care what they had thought of her. But as she and her child got older, she matured. She tried to gain acceptance in the colony by doing charity work so her daughter would not be treated poorly. She thought, only, of how her actions would affect Pearl, making her just as heroic as any super hero. She took her punishment, she didn’t run away from it. Even when she left for a while, she had “returned, and taken up her long forsaken shame…” For her to have been so brave and to return to her place of shame, instead of running away from it, is true bravery. Some people might say their literary heroines are either Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, or others; but, we tend to forget the earliest of literary heroines. Hester Prynne may have been a sinner at the beginning of her life in the colony, but died a saint.
Many things have frustrated me and even made me look upon the pages with awe. These were just some of the few main points that I sat and thought about as I read ‘The Scarlet Letter’. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, because the drama that is laced in every event that takes place in this novel is so attention grabbing. Hopefully, when others read this book, they will feel the same way I do in regards to some of the things that go on in ‘The Scarlet Letter’, and appreciate the magnificent work of art that they are reading.