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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Reviewed by Ella

The Scarlet Letter Book Cover

The Scarlet Letter is an unconventional and thrilling love story between the hated adulterer and admired pastor. It is also a story about the psychological obstacles that both individuals face amid their journey to create a life with each other.


Hester Prynne is a beautiful young woman who was sent to America. Originally, she and her much older husband, Roger Chillingworth, were supposed to reunite, but he never arrived. Assuming he was dead, Prynne quickly moves on and develops a passionate relationship with the town’s pastor Arther Dimmensdale. The short-lived affair ended in a pregnancy, and Hester Prynne was mocked in an unforgiving Puritan community. The town’s people made sure to remind her daily of the crime she committed; its leaders decreed that she would have to wear the letter A on her chest for the rest of her life. No matter what she did she couldn’t escape a mistake that she made once.


In defiance of the community, Hester becomes a strong mother, an envied seamstress, and a hopeful realist. And at the end of the day, Scarlet Letter is a nod toward feminism. Prynne overcomes her obligations to her family and society and makes a life for herself. She takes advantage of her husband’s “death” to build a life that is entirely her own. Although she makes enormous mistakes, Hester Prynne picks herself up to create a future for herself and her daughter. Throughout the novel, she overcomes all the obstacles thrown her way and survives. Scarlet Letter is a story about the survivor that is Hester Prynne; she breaks all societal laws and lives for herself.


Through Prynne’s tragedies and successes, we as an audience must take action and change a centuries old tale about women and their place in the world. Though this novel is over a hundred years old, nations have made miniscule strides toward a more equal society. Despite the hard work of many, men still do not treat women equally and society is still more unforgiving toward women than men.


The novel was thrilling and dramatic. While the language was a bit hard to swallow, this uncomplicated story about a woman overcoming adversity is made compelling by the misfortune in her life. Scarlet Letter is a complicated, dense novel so I would recommend it to upper-level highschoolers. It is very flowery and may be hard to sit through for modern ears, but the symbolism that Hawthorne applies to this novel is interesting to dissect. For those who are craving a story that lacks in the happily-ever-after complex, this is a good novel to read.


As a young woman of today, I connected with Prynne regarding the stereotypes put on women. In Boston, the city she lived in, people underestimated her capacity for resilience. She had neither a husband nor any family to rely on for basic necessities and income. To provide for herself and her daughter, Prynne used her skills with a needle and a thread. Even though all of the women were in awe of her handiwork, they still looked down on her for being a single mother. The town officials and women enjoyed Hester’s products and simultaneously shamed her for her years old crime. Though I have not faced discrimination of that degree, I see the effects of double standards in other women today. Certain male figures in my life constantly remind me of my shortcomings and competence; I cannot do this because it's too heavy or guys think more logically than I can. This book reminded me that I am capable of whatever I work hard for. You cannot always change what others think of you, but you can change the way that you think of yourself.

Checkout The Scarlet Letter from the Newport Beach Public Library. 

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