Saturday, January 16, 2016

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Not a fan of Puritans

I mean, it's pretty obvious. Hawthorne doesn't like hypocrites. He's pretty clear on that point. And it's sort of hard to miss when he's hammering you over the head with it on every single page of the story that basically everyone in the US had to read in high school.

Upon reflection, I was an idiot. I'm fairly certain that I'm going to come to that conclusion about past versions of myself every five years or so, but high school Alli was pretty slow on the uptake. It took me forever - like, at least fifty pages - to "get" that Dimmesdale was the father. Reading the book now it's like "oh, obviously - this is a criticism of puritanical hypocrisy right from the first page, of course he's the father." But I guess I was seventeen the first time around and I suppose I can forgive myself.

And really forgiveness is the key here, isn't it? The townsfolk couldn't forgive Hester and suffered for it, Dimmesdale couldn't forgive himself and suffered for it, Hester COULD forgive herself AND Dimmesdale but he had to take it away from her because the puritans were awful. So right in one, Mr. Hawthorne. We get it. Puritans: they sucked.

Which was just a little tiresome to read? I mean that's mostly what I got out of this go-round. I admired Hawthorne's admiration for Hester's character but it was just sort of exhausting by the end of the novel.

Anyway, it did allow me to finally identify the kind of writing I most like from Hawthorne: any time he's snarkily talking about witchcraft. It's the only pleasant part of The House of Seven Gables, the whole reason that "Young Goodman Brown" is a fantastic story, and the most diverting (and cuttingly funny) part of The Scarlet Letter. Yes, yes, yes, the novel is a masterwork by a Giant of American Literature but fuck, okay, I picked up on the Pearl of Great Price symbolism, it got boring, and now I wanna hear about the disappointments and cacklings of Mistress Hibbins.

     - Alli

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Barnes and Noble Classics. New York: New York.
     2003. (1850).

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