Many of the books that I’m reading for the co-op lit class I’m teaching are books I read myself in high school. It’s been long enough that I remember my general impression of the book, and I remember overall what happened, but I can’t remember the fine details. So in some ways, it’s like reading the book for the first time.
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The Scarlet Letter follows the story of Hester Prynne who had a daughter not only out of wedlock, but while married to a different man! That’s still a bit scandalous now, so imagine how bad it was roughly two hundred years ago when the story takes place.
As punishment, Hester Prynne is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest for the rest of her life because she’s an adulterer. She takes a small cottage on the edge of town and lives quietly with her young daughter, never revealing the name of her partner in crime, so to speak. No one in the town will speak to her in public, though they’re happy to hire her for their sewing needs since she is a fine seamstress.
While reading, I kept thinking how lonely life would be for Hester and Pearl, her young daughter. Can you imagine living in a small town where no one will speak to you and only looks at you with scorn? Yet she not only perseveres, but thrives. The same cannot be said for Pearl’s father.
To add complexity to the story, when Pearl is just a small infant, Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, finally arrives. (He had sent her ahead to America two years before.) He sees Hester’s predicament and asks her not to reveal that he is her husband. His reason for doing so is ominous.
I remember when I was initially reading this book in high school, wondering who the father was. However, this reading through, the father’s identity wasn’t much of a mystery. Instead, I dwelt on the loneliness Hester felt.
The story is still suspenseful, all the way to the end, though I find the story a bit more melodramatic than I previously remembered.
4 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.