“The Scarlet Letter” The Custom House + Ch. 1-4

I read The Scarlet Letter in high school, but it’s funny how much of it I forgot until this re-reading. As I was reading I continually kept thinking “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that!” or “I think this will be important later.” I’m actually looking forward to re-reading and remembering why I liked this novel in the first place.

Early on we get an image of a rose bush that just happens to be there by the prison door. This was one of the images that I thought might come up a few times. Hawthorne somewhat hints at its significance He says,

“It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow,” (34).

Maybe this symbol was places early on in the book to foretell the tone of the rest of the story. Hester Prynne will of course be mocked and hated for what she did, but throughout there may also be a hint of mercy that pops up in places as well. ┬áIt could represent the other side of the punishment and harshness. Religion plays a big role in the story, and the rose bush may represent the forgiving aspect. Though Hester will have to wear the scarlet “A” for the rest of her life, that doesn’t mean that she can’t gain forgiveness for her actions. And to show the rose bush in contrast to the darkness of the prison door is important, especially since the rose bush has apparently stayed alive throughout history. I thought it was an interesting symbol to place in this negative situation.

A part I thought was really interesting was how Hester’s long lost husband returns while she is standing before everyone and says to the people:

“‘A wise sentence!’ remarked the stranger, gravely bowing his head. ‘Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not, at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known!–he will be known!–he will be known,'” (44).

Then the man hold a finger to his lips so that Hester doesn’t say anything, but she seems to only vaguely recognize him. It isn’t until later we find out that he is her husband, and he doesn’t seem to thrilled to find out that Hester had a child with another man. He is so determined to find out who the man is, yet he was the one who disappeared. We are also left wondering why Hester is keeping the man who broke the law with her a secret from everyone. Why would she want to protect him and get in trouble alone? Perhaps he has a reputation to uphold. And when her husband asks her to keep the secret about who he is, Hester agrees to. Why would she also want to protect the identity of her husband? Will she keep these secrets?

At the end of this reading section, it seemed to me that Hester’s husband was already planning his schemes because when Hester asks if he intends to ruin her soul, his response is: “‘Not thy soul,’ he answered, with another smile. ‘No, not thine,'” (53). I am curious to see where this subplot goes (thought I think I might remember what happens). Hester’s husband seems intent on ruining the soul of the man who got Hester pregnant.

I’m also concerned about the mysterious drink that he gave to Hester and the baby though Chillingworth insisted that he doesn’t mean to kill them. Maybe so that Hester can continue to live in shame? Regardless, there are some fishy things going on with that man, and the name Chillingworth seems rather appropriate to me.

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