Cognition & Reality

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Scarlet Letter: A Doorway

Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 3:51 pm

About a week ago I started to re-read The Scarlet Letter about fifteen years after first reading it.  I was  puzzled  as to why I was reading it, but the reason became clear once I finished it. I came to it through a series of accidents: picking up the book and putting it down: after my mother’s recent death and in tribute to her, reading a book about the Massachusetts Bay Colony she had given me and nagged me to read; and picking up The Scarlet Letter again, as a sequel, I thought, to reading about the Puritans. I did not know why I needed to read it, but now I do.

Although I discovered as I read that I remembered almost nothing about The Scarlet Letter, somewhere in my mind, from my previous reading of  it, was a “message” in the novel about the connection of pain and opportunity. A phrase of my devising, “the problem is the solution,” was  a theme that  dominated my response to a workshop I was attending while I read the book. Through a form of magic not unknown to me and about which I have much to say at another time, I had chosen to read in anticipation of something I was about to learn.

Although she was in great turmoil when forced to wear it, the scarlet letter led Hester Prynne into a new relationship with God. Over the years of wearing it, of accepting her humiliation and her isolation from others, she adopted a new set of religious principles that raised the individual over the religious hierarchy and included the equality of men and women. She achieved enlightenment. The prison the scarlet letter represented was freedom itself. I don’t know how much this aspect of the novel is emphasized in Hawthorne scholarship. At least in the popular imagination, The Scarlet Letter is a morality tale about the hypocrisy and cruelty of the Puritans, which Hawthorne certainly intended, but it is much more.


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