The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Just finished reading The Scarlet Letter. I’d been looking forward to finishing it (I read three quarters of it during the IGCSE period), but although I found it an intriguing read I can say I was a little disappointed.

Not that I thought it wasn’t a good book, on the contrary I thought it was brilliant.

I think all the hype and raving reviews of The Scarlet Letter had set my expectations too high. The fact that the last book I read was a Huxley doesn’t help either, because I can’t help but compare the two authors. They do breach very different societal problems, though (with Hawthorne about the depravities and hypocrisy of humans pertaining to sin, love, etc; Huxley about the general views of human nature albeit with a cynical and misanthropic view), and vastly different backgrounds (Hawthorne having lived in an earlier generation) as well as genres.

The main reason why I prefer Huxley over Hawthorne would probably be the style of writing. Huxley’s writing is far more accessible than Hawthorne’s- I find myself reading much slower and mulling over Hawthorne’s words a lot more even though Huxley explores deeper concepts. Hawthorne uses an overly formal and old-fashioned way of writing- even in Pearl’s little seven-year-old outbursts.

But enough about Huxley.

This review will be incredibly short because I didn’t find myself entirely engrossed in this novel- there were little bits here and there where I started marveling at the brilliant irony and deep symbolism- but overall it just simply wasn’t sustained because the different sentence structures and ‘old’ ways of writing got in the way.

I would go into details about Hester and Pearl and what they represent; Dimmersdale’s sin and the nature of crimes and redemption, etc; Chillingworth’s descent into petty depravity and other little things- but I simply didn’t like the book enough to want to describe all I felt about it in detail.

Some quotes really struck me though-

“It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at the bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance and the other in a dusky and lurid glow.”

It’s a fine line between love and hate, and one can’t help but wonder whether they are one and the same. Eventually one comes to detest the one they love if love should not be reciprocated.

Love.

Hate.

Dualism and yet the merging of two extreme opposites.

Resonates Huxley, doesn’t it.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s way of conveying his profound thoughts is through his characters- but once again I found the formalities incredibly laborious. So quickly, I give it a 5 out of 7. As for now.

Maybe in some time when I have more patience/ appreciation for this type of literature, I’ll reread it and give it another go. Because it is really quite a brilliant book.

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