When it came time to read the Scarlet Letter in high school, our teacher verbalized her distaste, and instead opted for Mark Twain’s the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Now, having read Hawthorne’s American classic ten years on, I have zero understanding of how or why this book became a stereotype of high school reading lists. No teenager in their right mind would connect to this story, or, most especially, Hawthorne’s dense, repetitive, philosophical prose. I’m glad I had the chance to choose the time and place to read it, as I feel that directly contributed to my enjoyment at 27 rather than loathing at 17.
The story shouldn’t need a lengthy introduction: Hester Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter A upon her breast, meant to showcase, along with a newborn babe named Pearl, her sin of adultery to the public until she’s laid to rest. At the very moment of her condemnation, her missing husband returns, and hides under the name Roger Chillingworth in order to root out and have his revenge upon the man responsible for Hester’s sins — Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale.