Saturday, February 14, 2015

A HEART TO RECEIVE YOURS: Nathaniel Hawthorne & The Scarlet Letter

"The Scarlet Letter continues to enthrall, asking us over and over what it means to live with others and feel apart; to be part of history yet separate from it; to love passionately and never forget; to hope too long, plot secrets, face reality, feel scared and yet still believe in the promise, as Hester does at the novel's end, of a better world." ~Brenda Wineapple

What better topic for literary scholars on Saint Valentine's Day than an American romance novel written by a true Romanticist?  (Alright...Dark Romanticist.  Semantics!)  The English in which he writes may feel antiquated and require closer reading by contemporary readers, but the layers of meaning, the universal themes and use of allegory, the rich imagery that burns into our imaginations just as the scarlet letter itself burned the chest of the author when he found it in The Custom House, is what gives Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel its permanent place on the greatest American literature shelf.

Here is a mind blowing fact about this novel.  Since the 1920's, seven Scarlet Letter films have been made, and one is currently in the works, and one film has been made inspired by the story and its themes (Easy A) and became quite a hit at the box office.  High school classrooms all over The United States and Europe have it on their classroom studies list, and it has even seeped into our idiomology ("Gosh, one mistake and it's like I'm wearing a scarlet A or something!")  Whatever you may think of this novel, it has that lasting quality.  It is here to stay.

This begs the question, of course:  What makes a work of literature timeless?  Language is constantly evolving, so it is a given that as time marches on, the language on the pages will go out of vogue.  Meaning may be harder to access.  It will take patience, dedication, passion for great story, and a sophisticated vocabulary to muddle through and find that diamond.  But the pursuit is worth the time in the end. The Scarlett Letter is a haunting story that stays with you.  Hawthorne purposefully leaves some questions unanswered.  This adds to the mystery of Hester Prynne as well as makes us, the reader respect her a little bit more for stubbornly refusing to reveal to her nosy, judgmental neighbors the identity of her lover and the details of their sinful tryst.  In many ways, we see fractals of Hawthorne, himself in Prynne:  beauty, austere determination and fierce protection of privacy.  There is also the fact that Prynne is described as a beautiful, dark-haired woman.  Many of Hawthorne's contemporaries have hinted that Hawthorne, himself had a weakness for stunning brunette ladies. Here, I am stepping outside the arena of supportable fact and into the dangerous realm of assumption, but it IS Valentine's Day!

I digress.  In this literary lover's humble opinion, one of the biggest reasons The Scarlet Letter will remain steadfastly on the greatest works bookshelf is the same reason that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet  will never be knocked out of its position as the most famous and beloved love story of all time.  It is, in its heart, a story of a love that can never be.  It tugs at our own hearts.  It turns us all into, for at least that short span of time it takes us to read it, fellow Dark Romantics who share in Hawthorne's angst.  We want desperately to create a different, happier ever after ending for our protagonists, but somewhere in our hearts and minds, we realize the truth of the dichotomy: it is the painful tragedy of it that makes the story beautiful.

Please read the essay via the link below about Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter.  It is an excellent resource, and provides some insights as to what it is about this novel that still draws us in and intrigues us.  Below, tell us what you found most compelling in the article, and any new things you learned, or inspirations that struck you as you read.

Happy Saint Valentine's Day, and here is to the steadfast Romanticists everywhere.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE/SCARLET LETTER ARTICLE

29 comments:

  1. My favorite quote from this article was "Human society: a utopia of virtue and happiness, or the site of sin and death, or both..." It's something we never really think about and even though I haven't read the novel yet I'm pretty sure the foundation of it. I believe love and hate go hand and hand. Although I have no scientific facts to back me up but from personal experience when we truly hate someone it's because we can no longer love them or they did something to us that hurt us. There are people I can't stand or people who I don't like but I believe hating someone is much more passionate than that. It's an overused word.
    Another thing in this article I found interesting was Hawthornes quote.
    “My theory is,” Hawthorne told a friend, “that there is less indelicacy in
    speaking out your highest, deepest, tenderest emotions to the world at large,
    than to almost any individual. You may be mistaken in the individual; but you
    cannot be mistaken in thinking that, somewhere among your fellow-creatures,
    there is a heart that will receive yours into itself.”
    Hawthorne was a very poetic guy, this article definitely made me interested in reading the book. I think he will have a unique perspective on the time period as well as a common issue we face today. Judging people.

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  2. Acople things stood out to me the most. The first part was when the author described going into the cement, public school. Most of the kids there were speaking english as a second language. This was inspiring to me because even for me the language of Hawthorne is difficult. These kids were described as eager and willing to pull quotes and comment on the questions about The Scarlet Letter.
    The second thing that stood out to me was the quote, "Human society: a utopia of virtue and happiness, or the site of sin and death, or both. This is quite the contraditory statement and it makes me think of the pardox in the book you asked us to look for. It also reminds me of The Book Thief, "so much good so much evil, just add water." The people migrated to build a place with happiness and virtue but when the first thing they build, as we saw in chapter one was the jail, the confidence of keeping the happiness and virtue is diminished. It is interesting that what they wanted was not what they created for themselves.

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  3. This essay was an interesting point of view, which I like, she made me want to read the book so I can find my own interpretation from the text to get the “wow” moment Hawthorne gives every reader. As she described the “plain cement-block public school”, some would assume that the scholars there would not be as interested to talk about a book, which is completely stereotypical. Also the another small quote that popped out to me, “Hawthorne is the great exception”, I found this interesting because I thought of the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens because of the way Dickens wrote was dark and lengthy and Hawthorn was dark, lengthy but more to the point; I find a small parallel with the writing. Lastly the ending of her essay ““My theory is,” Hawthorne told a friend, “that there is less indelicacy in speaking out your highest, deepest, tenderest emotions to the world at large, than to almost any individual. You may be mistaken in the individual; but you cannot be mistaken in thinking that, somewhere among you fellow creatures, there is a heart that will receive yours into itself.” I see this as an individual may have his own thoughts but when shared with the other individuals are ready for the fire that might be thrown back at you.

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  4. The essay was thought provoking in some parts. I liked how the woman went into the school and all the students were dying to know some of the answers. I'm exactly like that at the end of a book: if I don't know something I want to know it and I will ask almost anyone who has read the book about what they think. I also enjoyed the description of his writing style, because while I really enjoy it, sometimes I don't understand his wording until the third time reading a passage. The quote "such eloquance, alien as it may sometimes seem" (p2) perfectly describes how I see his writing; beautiful, but strange.

    What delighted me though was the fact that it mentioned how he was for women's rights and wrote about it; "he wrote about women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change. He wrote empathetically, sensitively, and also, sometimes, with disdain, converting his profound ambivalence about women, society, and politics into cultural symbols of ambiguity" (p2). It was really interesting to see more about the author and his life. I really liked knowing back stories of books and so it was nice to read more about him and how his real life influenced Hawthorne's works. It's very interesting that he might have based many of the important female figures in his life into the book as Hester.

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  5. first off, did it tell you who Hester slept with…? “explain why Hester didn’t rat out Roger Chillingworth” I thought it was interesting that it says that “ Hawthorne scrutinizes the foundation myths of America”. The whole book is about how people point fingers at what others do bad but yet never show others the sins they have done. I will admit that I am not very excited to read this book, as I was to read the book thief. Yet after this article the writer seemed very passionate on how well the book was written that it kind of makes me want to read it a little more. I want to find the passion in this book like I did in the book thief or like how the writer of this article feels bout the book.

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  6. I'm enjoying this book a lot more then i am The Book Thief. It may be because i tend to have a taste for older novels and such, i don't know. But i really do like to think of Hester as Hawthorne's "Dream Girl" if you will. In the essay it asks the question " Why does Hawthorne admire and condemn Hester?" and it draws me back to the idea repeated in class of you have to kill off your darlings. I feel he pushed the personality of Hester in such a way that he made this woman that is in my opinion a paradox a little with her personality. I mean the person she got with when her husband was thought to be gone, wasn't strong enough to say out who he was (IT WAS THE MINISTER! JUST SAYIN'), which i mean i would expect the male to be the one to take all of the blame for the woman. Yet you have the complete opposite, and you have the man being a coward and the woman being the stronger one in the relationship and not being weak emotionally wise like most women would be. And it's not hard to want to look up to her for this. And I was having troubles understanding part of the book when I had first starting reading it because i knew that Roger washer Husband but at the same time i read the essay a little bit differently then i probably should have. It's also interesting he allowed a bit of his family life into this book in the way that Hester was a single mom and he lived with his mother after his father died when he was a child. I like seeing into authors lives sometimes, because it seems that the happiest people or the most successful people are the ones who's lives weren't as great when they were kids.

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  7. This essay was very informing, but almost a bit too much information for considering I actually wanted to be surprised when I read the novel and discover more information for myself. I found it very interesting that New York school children with English as a second language found the novel so interesting, when sometimes our IB Honors class can't find books like this interesting. Maybe its just Hawthorne and the plot of this story, or it could be that sometimes people in worse off situations (going to a school with metal detectors) might crave for a relatable story more often. (Just a thought). I enjoyed the point this author made that a reason this story is so lasting is because one, obviously the intricate plot but also all of the symbols and the over all allegory. Another point this author made that stood out to me was the fact that the town in this story was supposed to be a utopia (one that obviously has some internal issues). Some of popular novels/movies today are The Hunger Games and The Divergent series. Interestingly enough both of these series are based around utopias that have internal issues. These series and even Hawthorns novel include heroes who stand up and do "whats wrong" but make a greater point. It's interesting how we as people still find the same concepts fascinating, even after 200 years.

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  8. I think that one of the main reasons The Scarlet Letter has never lost publicity is because it teaches a lesson, a moral, that constantly needs to be reminded. "You are not one to judge", is the biggest message I have gotten so far from The Scarlett Letter and it is a message that needs to be shouted on the rooftops, so to speak. As we have discussed in class, some of the same judgements that are going on in the book still happen today! One novel that comes to mind is Uncle Tom's Cabin, which taught the public about the cruelties of black slavery during the 1800's, I believe. It was a huge hit back then. Not so much anymore here in America because we can't really relate to that era from our own experiences since we don't have African-American slaves working on our farms or in our homes. But, The Scarlett Letter will always hold a pearl of wisdom for centuries to come.

    I really liked the quote, "The founders of a new colony, whatever
    Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have
    invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion
    of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as a prison" because, to me, it really gives an amazing image of just how judgmental these Puritans were. Right off the bat, they built a cemetery and a prison, because they were ready to fill them will the beings condemned with their judgments.

    I also found it interesting that Nathaniel Hawthorne used a female protagonist. "He wrote about women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change." Nathaniel saw a problem and he wanted to fix it. He saw the way women were looked upon and didn't agree. So, he writes a book to gain awareness in order to change the situation.

    I think that the best books are the ones that contain messages that are so important to be reminded of day by day. The Scarlet Letter is one of those books.

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  9. Talk about a spoiler alert!
    This essay pointed out to me, like many other of my fellow scholars, how Hawthorne stood for women rights and made a point to defend them. In a time period so judgmental due to Puritan belief, especially for Hester Pryne, Hawthorne finds a point in the book to beautify the woman's embroidered punishment just like the essay states, "He wrote empathetically sensitively, and also, sometimes, with disdain converting his profound ambivalence about women, society and politics into cultural symbols of ambiguity that, like the scarlet A, still baffle us, for what starts as a symbol drenched infamy, signifying "adultery", becomes a badge of courage and integrity, worn by one who is able and angelic abeilt tied forever to Arthur." Though I cannot be sure, Hawthorne did not agree with the way women were looked upon judgmentally, while clean fingers were not the ones being pointed. The sense of feminism I did not notice before boldly stood out to me.

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  10. I would first like to say that the quote at the end was beautiful. Secondly, as much as it bothered me how he gave away a lot of things in the essay I’m still glad I read it. I feel so informed now about Nathaniel Hawthorne and the essay opened my eye to things I had not yet recognized. I didn’t think about how strange it must have been to have read about such a strong female lead when the story was published, or to have a strong female lead in the time period of the story. I’m so used to it because that’s always the characters I’m drawn to so they’re always in the books I read. But back then it must have been taboo. It also fascinated me how he based Hester Prynne off of the women in his life, because the essay made it clear that he was surrounded by strong, independent women. This essay has given me many ideas for our written task and I am definitely going to use this as a source!

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  11. Yeah... A little bit of a spoiler there. But whatever. I read the essay, and didn't get much out of it, besides the fact that Hawthorne really was a B.A. feminist. This just makes me want to scream at everyone and say, "LOOK AT THIS, WHAT YOU HAVE TO READ IN SCHOOL, IS A FORM OF A FEMINISTS WORK. AND IN THIS WORK DID THEY HATE MEN? NO." Its interesting that back then, when feminism was just then being created, probably without the title, the people understood more of what it was than they do now. Hawthorne clearly understood the base of it. And it was the 1800's! I still have to argue with classmates about this stuff, but a man from the 1800's got it more than people today. That's sad for us, and really innovating and great for Hawthorne.

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  12. I've had to read this essay at least three times to sort of absorb the concrete details in this person's writing. I love how the author is going back and forth in between Hawthorne's background and inspirations, and The Scarlett Letter's true meanings. Though, I read Ashley's response above and goodness, I didn't even think about Hawthorne writing as his "dream girl."
    In his time period, the woman are frilly, and quiet and made to be housewives. While not every woman was this way in the 1800's, even so, this was the expectation for girls. I do not doubt for a second Hawthorne did not love his wife, however I'm sure he did fantasize in the past about what he would want. Maybe he truly admired Hester Prynne because she was what he imagined a true heroine could be.

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  13. I think its cool how Nathaniel Hawthorne can turn things around in different perspectives. For example like the essay talks about "a symbol
    drenched in infamy, signifying “adultery,” becomes a badge of courage and
    integrity, worn by one who is able and angelic albeit tied forever to Arthur". One thing I liked about this essay was that it went back and talked about his personal story and background a little and connects it to the book.

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  14. What I found interesting was that he went to that school, in New York City, where every student was engaged into the book.They all had questions and wanted to learn more about the book. I like how he said that The Scarlet Letter is about concealment ans secrets.From what I have read so far, this is very true. She is going to keep who her husband is a secret. She will not tell anybody. Same with her lover. She is not willing to tell anyone because she cares too much about him, that she is willing to take the consequences for him as well.

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  15. I thought the intro paragraph of this article was the most interesting! Even after a lot of other authors couldn't perfectly withstand the test of time, Hawthorne did. I feel that this really shows a lot about his novels and that he portrayed human nature in a way we can still connect with today, even through the different culture and time period. This article also made me really like Hester for some reason because of how they described her: "straight and tall, imperial and grand,
    proud and strong and isolated from the community." This really makes her out to be a great heroine and simplifies her situation in my opinion since it states it so bluntly.

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  16. While reading this it caught my attention how Brenda was descriptive at the beginning " I entered the plain cement-block public school by passing
    through a metal detector and found myself among a polyglot group of teenagers", it reminded me of Hawthorne because of the description and you can feel like you are there or at least see the imagery. It was also mentioned that the students second language was English and how the understood the context of the book very well. As Mrs.Caraway always mentions that female writers love to make men characters and vise versa; it also caught my attention that it was mentioned that Hawthorne liked to write about women. "Hawthorne is the great exception; he wrote about women’s rights,
    women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change. He wrote
    empathetically, sensitively, and also, sometimes, with disdain, converting his
    profound ambivalence about women, society, and politics into cultural symbols of ambiguity" I find it interesting though that in The Scarlet Letter he does not only make Hester beautiful but puts the character into committing adultery and that might have tied into his own personal life about the mystery incident that occurred.

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  17. "He wrote empathetically, sensitively, and also, sometimes, with disdain, converting his profound ambivalence about women, society, and politics into cultural symbols of ambiguity that, like the scarlet A, still baffle us, for what starts as a symbol drenched in infamy, signifying “adultery,” becomes a badge of courage and integrity..."

    I liked that quote from the essay because I didn't really think about the book or the characters like that. I didn't think he was writing about women's rights. I thought he was just writing a story because why not? My favorite part about that quote is the part where Brenda is saying how it baffles people as to why the scarlet A was a symbol for courage and integrity while it means the complete opposite. The scarlet A is supposed to be something that no one would want to have because it's just so full of sin that they would become ostracized. But in the novel, it's a light to Hester and it's her symbol of courage. She walks to town with the scarlet A and instead of cowering and hiding her sin, she embraces it and uses it as a beacon of strength.

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  18. For me reading this article what kept standing out to me was Hawthorne was trying not to involve himself. Not be personal but he wrote a really personal story. Not just for him but for everyone. "original, touching, deep in thought and condensed in style". The scarlet letter isn't about Hester its about everyone who has been shamed for one mistake.

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  19. This essay provided interesting insights into the reasons for the popularity and success of the Scarlet Letter, as well as giving some background information concerning the context in which Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the novel. Having only reached the 6th chapter of the novel, and not having read it before, there are references that I do not understand yet in the symbols, relationships, and events mentioned, yet it nonetheless provides a short preview of important points to consider when they are arrived at.

    The quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne that the essay finished with caught my attention significantly, as he speaks of something that might seem odd at first glance, but can be given credibility by such experiences as I have had. It is very easy to pick the wrong person to confide in concerning individual subjects, but there’s always someone out there who understands anything that occurs. Whatever fear comes with having anything known to the incomprehensibly large world, addressing the world with our most important points will reach someone out there in the way we hope, because of that same immense scale.

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  20. Exactly. That is every writer's dream.

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  21. We talk a lot about how Hawthorne likes to keep things away from his life, but in The Custom House he points out that he does. I wasn't that it was personal for just him, but everyone. I see in the essay that he mentions that the symbol for "Adultery" is also integrity in a way. Not only is this interesting, but you can tell from all the hypocrisy in his book that it all is intentional. Reading this made me analyze and appreciate him more as an author, considering he could create such a perfect example of the main point. Don't judge for the things your doing as well.

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  22. We talk a lot about how Hawthorne likes to keep things away from his life, but in The Custom House he points out that he does. I wasn't that it was personal for just him, but everyone. I see in the essay that he mentions that the symbol for "Adultery" is also integrity in a way. Not only is this interesting, but you can tell from all the hypocrisy in his book that it all is intentional. Reading this made me analyze and appreciate him more as an author, considering he could create such a perfect example of the main point. Don't judge for the things your doing as well.

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  23. Hawthorne seemed to try hard to not be engaged in himself, although it may have been a personal story. He tries to make his storied from different perspectives which makes him unique as a writer. This essay did give a lot of information about himself,. One that caught my attention was that he stood up for women's rights, and this kind of made a 'OMG' moment in my head. In most stories and movies you see that he male character or partner is the cheater in the story, and as for the female character they get to be the victim. As for in The Scarlet Letter, the female character (Hestor) is considered the 'cheater' to her husband, and the adulterer to society. Now she is considered a bad person and everyone seems to not like her or her daughter, but if the male character had cheated then, no one would care as much because males don't have as much of a social suicide as women do. That's where it clicked for me when he stood up for the women's right because, not only can men cheat but women can too. He took it from a different perspective from it, he wrote about how the feeling would feel for a woman, how she had to be independent and reply on herself.

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  24. “My theory is,” Hawthorne told a friend, “that there is less indelicacy in
    speaking out your highest, deepest, tenderest emotions to the world at large,
    than to almost any individual. You may be mistaken in the individual; but you
    cannot be mistaken in thinking that, somewhere among your fellow-creatures,
    there is a heart that will receive yours into itself.”
    This quote stood out to me at the end of this article and it was beautifully written and placed as well. I like his way of thinking and understanding others.
    I also love it when he says that the past is never dead. Clearly the past is important to him since he writes in the 17th century and he is haunted by the sins of his ancestors. I feel like the past is never dead because of memories. Memories are what keep the past alive and Hawthorne is showing this through his writing. He's very inspiring and makes me smile when he stands up for women's rights.

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  25. I found it very interesting how much of a feminist he was. It makes sense while reading The Scarlett Letter, but the fact that he grew up with his mom and was surrounded by powerful woman who were making change everywhere obviously influenced his writing. Another thing I found interesting was that Hester is seen as the protagonist in this essay. I see how she would be the protagonist against the other characters, but the way she acts and presents herself even after her "crime", the others in her community seem more like protagonists in the novel than she does.

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  26. After reading this article, what stood out to me the most was how Hawthorne tried to keep his personal life out. He didn't want to involve himself in his writing. He wanted to make his stories personal for everyone, and not just him. In The Scarlet Letter, I feel he accomplished what he wanted to do. Reading the book brought some personal memories to me. The Scarlet Letter, I feel, is not meant to be about Hester and her guilt, but it is supposed to connect with the reader and their guilt that they have. This is what stood out to me the most in the article.

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  27. I like how one of Hawthorne's goals when writing The Scarlet Letter was to not get himself involved, and to not have pieces of his personality show in the story. There were times in the story where it seemed like you could see a part of his personality showing his opinions, but I do think he did a good job of accomplishing this goal. He also wanted the story to relate to everyone and for everyone to understand the same meanings, which he did well because he made it about Hester and her sin of adultery, but underneath there was another layer where every reader could relate with and that was with guilt. The reader would understand the guilt that Hester had and they could then relate her to themselves, and what guilt they might have felt in the past.

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