A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The Scarlet Letter is one of the most celebrated novels in early American literature and is probably the magnum opus of its author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. It vividly depicts Puritan life in Massachusetts during the mid-1600s and explores issues of American morality, religion, and hypocrisy. Its use of symbolism can't be missed. The novel is frequently used in high school and early college literature classes and is a favorite example for discussion on AP tests and the like.
Differing views of morality and sin are what drive the narrative of The Scarlet Letter. Hester bears the public shame for her transgression, but there are others who suffer for it in secret. Hester's unwavering goodness ultimately restores some of her standing in the community. Redemption is available to those who work for it.
Positive Role Models
Although she has committed an act that offends the morals of all her neighbors, Hester remains resolute in her pledge not to reveal the father of her child or to disclose a secret concerning her long-absent husband. She is a tender and loving mother. She even does charitable work, which allows her eventually to return to the good graces of the townspeople.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Illicit sex is, of course, at the center of The Scarlet Letter's premise and plot. Hester is ostracized because she dares to raise a child out of wedlock and refuses to name the father. She and others come to bear responsibility for their actions. But this being a 19th-century novel about 17th-century Puritans, Hester's affair is not described in any detail likely to offend modern sensibilities.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Scarlet Letter is a classic American novel that deals with adultery, sin, religion, and redemption. Hawthorne's prose is dense with irony and symbolism, but readers who persevere will be rewarded by his subtle humor and acute understanding of human foibles.
Is It Any Good?
Hawthorne's prose can seem complicated and stilted to modern ears, but a careful reading reveals his delicious use of irony and symbolism to make his points about American morality and hypocrisy. Written in the mid-1800s, The Scarlet Letter is one of the most acclaimed early America novels and is frequently assigned in upper-level high school and entry-level college English Literature classes. It examines issues of sin and redemption and paints a vivid portrait of Puritan life in the mid-1600s.
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