Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Rating 2.5/5

Okay, we get it, Hawthorne, the minister is pale and weak with guilt and Pearl is fairy-like. Hester is the model of a subdued martyr and should be let out for good behaviour. Look. I get why this is a "classic". I really do. It's a marvel of the English language. But as a novel, I didn't much like it. It had its moments, of course, but it also had a lot of flaws. Did I mention it was repetitive? It was repetitive to the point of being histrionic. Also, I may be so far removed from Puritanism that I couldn't help sometimes thinking to myself "this whole situation is completely ridiculous". I found it very hard to relate to anyone in this story. I've read books about people in similar situations - oppressed, discriminated against - and I've always been able to feel compassion for their struggle. I found that difficult with these characters. As an expert in self-defeat, I should be able to relate, but I don't. Hawthorne subtly raises a lot of societal and religious questions and that is to his credit. I just wish he'd actually taken a stand and provided an answer to some of them. Instead we are left with a mild uneasiness, nobody is vindicated and we've supposedly learned a lesson about keeping dark secrets. Except that wasn't what I wanted the lesson to be about. I wanted it to be about how stupid religion is to punish people for being human. Maybe that's there too, but nobody in the book itself seemed to get it, and that's unsatisfying.

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