December 6, 2009

Try not to think of Demi Moore and let that taint your opinion of the Scarlet Letter

I know - the Nathanial Hawthorne, Scarlet Letter, Puritan buffet never really induced me to pig out. At least not in high school. But well, as it turns out, The Scarlet Letter is mandatory reading for my Survey of American literature 17th-19th lecture at uni. And it still takes place in some ultra puritan village in Massachusetts or somewhere like that. Early 17th century.

And its still written by Nathanial Hawthorne. But I did him wrong. His language is pure, not in the economy of words sense, but in the essence, in the feeling that infuses the story. Despite the rather simple plot, he teases and tickles a tension and suspense out of the story that is exceptional considering the austere setting he chose to depict. (Puritans must have been soooo boring) As long as I could keep the disturbing vision of Demi Moore out of my head, the pleasure of re-reading this book was both mellifluous and suspenseful.

The book opens with the disgraced heroine being led out of prison to stand in the town square, on the scaffold. The objective: to display her crime. Marked by the infamous letter A. A stands, of course, for Adultress. She is carrying the unholy fruit of her actions in her arms, a babe. The baby Pearl. The town magistrates and all those other humorless people in power, stand and ask her formally, to name the co-conspirator ie the dude who got her pregnant. She refuses.

Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale, the town pastor, is also there and beseeches her to reveal the name of the coward. She refuses still. After standing there for - I dunno- three hours or so, she is led back to her prison cell. Guess she still has to do some time. In the crowd, a stranger appears. He introduces himself as Roger Chillingsworth. An old guy. He says he has been hanging out with some of the natives and has learned their medicinal remedies, etc. He asks to be admitted to Hester Prynne's cell, to possibly induce her to reveal the name and also to offer medical help. For she is frought with tension and is basically having a panic attack or something. The baby is also screaming and crying. So he gives her some herbal stuff. Hester, of course recognizes him as her husband. Whom she thought was lost at sea. You see, after the decision was made to immigrate to the colonies, she was sent ahead, her husband was supposed to join her within a couple of months. But he never showed up.

Now, seriously, whats a beautiful young vibrant girl to do? Husband presumed dead. Seeks solace with the local hot minister. Who was probably the only sane person there. With the certainty of the tock coming after the tick, the woman has to pay the price. Because, well, getting pregnant and all, pretty hard to hide that condition. Hester takes the fall.

So the story continues to unfold. Turns out, Hestor was a super cool chick. Badass. She accepted her role as an outcast, when in reality, she was freer than all the rest of the stunted in human feelings Puritans. She played by her own rules. Her mind was free. The others weren't.

I learned a new word too: Ignominous.


K.M. Weiland said...

I remember reading this in middle school. It's a fascinating, haunting story. Pearl, in particular, was very vivid to me.

Tatiana Lensky said...

Indeed she was. The way Pearl is described is quite vivid. Kind of this allegorical figure of innocence and wisdom.

Enlightening experience re-reading something years later. I really liked it.