The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne
1850

In 17th century Massachusetts, in a small Puritan-dominated town near Boston, Hester Prynne is pregnant out of wedlock. Dragged before the religious and legal authorities she refuses to give up the name of the father, taking upon herself instead a life of condemnation and isolation, forever marked with the great letter A of the adulteress. A romance, an historical drama, a critique of the hellfire and damnation religion that was so central to the founding of America, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most famous work is a love story rooted in personal and social tensions of sin and repentence, shame and redemption, law and morality.

Born in Salem, and counting judges of that town’s infamous witch-trials as his ancestors, Hawthorne’s book is a personal reckoning with his own family history and the legacy he has inherited as well as an attempt to grapple with the broader cultural inheritance of the United States. Just as the novel presents the character of Pearl – Hester Prynne’s young and troubled daughter – as in many respects the human embodiment of the scarlet letter, she is likewise Hawthorne himself and America as a nation – born of and fully immersed in the legacy of Puritanism and the accusation of witchcraft, she is passion and freedom and the hard work of redemption.

We read this aloud, a chapter each night before bed. Highly recommended, if you can do the same. We also watched the movie, with Demi Moore and Gary Oldman. Whatever else you do, don’t make that mistake.

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