Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.
MY RATING: 3 STARS
I always dread reviewing classics…
I was prepared for something dense, long-winded, verbiose, and saturated in symbolism, and I got what I was looking for. In an unexpected twist, I enjoyed it all the same. It reminded me of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which still stands very high on my list. Hawthorne fails only in being so freaking wordy! I had to search for the point he was trying to make amid a lot of narration that sounds impressive, but never really goes anywhere.
Enough complaining, onto the rest of it. I didn’t understand Hester’s loyalty to Dimmesdale in taking the ignominy (Hawthorne used that word often enough, so I might as well) upon herself and not exposing him as the father of her child, but I came around to feeling sorry for him soon. She bore her punishment publically and even dressed her daughter to reflect her shame, but he had just as bad a time of it, with a conscience that wouldn’t leave him alone and a position in society that made confession impossible. Once I heard his side of the story a little more, I wasn’t so harsh with him. I didn’t know what to make of Roger Chillingworth, other than he blew my mind with his vindictiveness. If he hadn’t been so bent on making Dimmesdale suffer–and succeeding–I don’t think I would have felt as strongly about either of them.
Forget the symbolism, as that’s more of a group discussion thing. I want to talk about the themes. Hester’s strength and endurance in the face of the people’s scorn were amazing. She carried on in spite of the label she was literally forced to wear and not only rose above it, but became a woman of importance in the community, not just an outcast in disgrace. Dimmesdale’s plight struck a little deeper, to be honest. Outwardly, a man of God just a mark below sainthood, and inwardly a writhing mess of guilt and self-abasement. Which is he, the town’s beloved minister or sin-stained scum? Neither, he’s human. But since humanity is an intolerable imperfection among the Puritans, it sure sucks to be Arthur Dimmesdale. I thought him cowardly and hypocritical at first, but as I understood him better, I also understood his predicament. He was still devoted to his ministry, and anything that damaged his reputation would also damage the work he was trying to do. His admission on the Election Day, finally taking his place beside Hester on the pillory, actually had me speechless. It was perhaps more cowardice, given the circumstances, but I think he suffered quite enough in private without bearing the judgment of his flock.
Well, all in all, I’d have to say I liked this one. Once Hawthorne got to the point, he made it pretty clear. It definitely made an impression, and that’s for sure.