Over the past few years, as I’ve tried to read the books I should have read in high school, there have been times when I felt like I had cheated myself for not reading one of the classics of literature earlier in life – The Scarlet Letter does not fall into that category.
The Scarlet Letter is the story of Hester Prynne, her adulterous encounter with the town minister, and her subsequent life of punishment wearing the scarlet letter ‘A’ for adultery.
Written in 1850, the novel takes place 200 years prior in puritan Boston. This book is a nasty caricature of Puritan life. No doubt many negative conceptions of puritanism have been formed by this book. The reader is left to believe that puritan Boston was a legalistic and graceless society. However, when one takes time to read the works of any of the major puritan figures (Owen, Edwards, Burroughs, or Sibbes for example), you see that these men had a great understanding of the grace of God.
From a literary standpoint, I quickly tired of the overly dramatic prose. The story, which explores issues of sin, legalism, and grace (or the lack thereof), goes too far. The young daughter, Pearl, is constantly saying annoying phrases that no 18-year-old girl would say, let alone a five-year-old. By the end, when the minister reveals his own scarlet letter carved on his chest after preaching his ‘election’ sermon, and then dies, I was irritated by the cheesy predictability of it all.
Conclusion: If you’re in high school skip The Scarlet Letter and read The Hunger Games instead (Ron, I know you’ll love this line).