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YMMV / The Scarlet Letter

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  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": Dimmesdale is the father of Pearl.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • Hawthorne plays with just how much Hester's motivation to stay near a town that shuns her is selfish, due to imagined obligations stemming from guilt, or a human need to atone due to her conditioning by her old religious society. Nonetheless, he portrays her as nurturing as she could be, to both her child and the Puritan folks she assists.
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    • Later, it's said in the end Hester imagined herself as some kind of savior but her mind quashes the notion. But the text makes it clear that this is in Hester's mind and leaves the reader to decide whether this is low self-esteem or just an admission of humility.
    • Chillingworth, Dimmsdale and Pearl have all received different interpretation that decrease or increase the level of sympathy the readers have towards them. See below.
  • And You Thought It Would Fail: Hawthorne himself never expected the book to be popular; boy was he wrong.
  • Anvilicious: Basically all the symbolism. Also, making Chillingworth ugly to show he was the bad guy.
  • Broken Base:
    • The so-called introduction. Is it a fictional Framing Device or Hawthorne's real life behind the scenes essay (if this case it's also Based on a Great Big Lie)? You'll find plenty of editions, including academic ones, that omit it as deeming it to be the latter.
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    • While this rarely goes into disliking of the book itself you will find some fans of Hawthorne who consider how the book is used in modern English lit have hurt Hawthorne's reputation. These people generally feel The Scarlet Letter is a poor choice to be your "first" or "only" Hawthorne exposure. Mainly just reading The Scarlet Letter may turn some off from reading more Hawthorne, but reading more Hawthorne will make you appreciate The Scarlet Letter more. This averted by those who legitimately think this was the man's greatest novel and/or the only one worth making the cut.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: In-Universe, the author/narrator notes in The Custom House that his story is too dark to be popular for this reason.
  • Designated Hero: Despite publicly slut-shaming the woman he committed adultery with, Dimmesdale is supposed to be a good guy. He does redeem himself, but only at the very literal end, when he has nothing left to lose.
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  • Fair for Its Day: Hester Prynne can be considered a "proto-feminist" figure, being a single mother who earned her keep despite being somewhat attached to her stigma even after she's freed. It's notable too that unlike other literary Defiled Forever female protagonists, Hester got to live a full life, see to it that her child received a good life, and die of old age. It helps that the text encourages us not to judge Hester for her actions and doesn't take a standpoint on how she should handle her situation.
  • Foe Yay: Chillingworth and Dimmesdale; they convert into Heterosexual Life-Partners.
  • Iron Woobie: Hester has been scapegoated and shamed by almost everyone, but she struggles to atone and redeems herself.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Dimmesdale, who suffers greatly but also left Hester to be publicly ostracized, while he stands on the sidelines saying nothing almost the entire novel.
  • Narm: In the film, the poor guy about to hang Dimmesdale gets shot by an Indian in the throat three times! And continues stumbling around in the midst of the huge battle. It's almost an Overly Long Gag.
  • Slow-Paced Beginning: "The Custom-House" chapter is very long and has nothing to do with the story.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: A sin does not define a person as completely evil. How a person accepts and interprets his/her own sins are rift with complicated emotions and grey morality rather than the black and white.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic:
    • Roger Chillingworth. He is portrayed as wickedly and disturbingly obsessed, though Hester does note that she shouldn't have wronged him in the first place. He does little or nothing objectively bad (somewhat depending on interpretation). He has done a lot of good things though: at great personal risk he has learned medicine from the Indians and uses it for the benefit of the community. He forgives Hester, even saying that her infidelity was mostly his fault, and medicates Pearl. He also lets her go, despite the fact that apparently he still loves her. He helps the man he suspects is the man who cuckolded him-even Dimmesdale admits that Chillingworth saved his life. Chillingworth correctly insists that Dimmesdale needs to fess up to whatever is on his conscience to truly regain his health. Yet everyone, including the narrator, Dimmesdale, Hester and Chillingworth himself assumes he does all of these things for the worst reasons.
    • Pearl. The public, and even Hester at times, in the book sees her as a product of sin. The fact that she is a child of a single mother, shunned by the community as well as mentioning that she could have had a better life if Hester would just leave the village, make her more sympathetic than she was probably intended to be. Many readers also think that she is a girl misunderstood by the whole community (who take every little "bad" thing she does and connects it to her being an illegitimate child) and brought up by a mother too distracted by her guilt to discipline her.
  • Values Dissonance: Suffice it to say that most modern students who read the book in high school today (in a day and age where societal norms have changed) cannot see what the big deal is or why anyone would be so willing to accept a punishment the way Hester did (comparing English Lit and History is rarely suggested.)
  • Wangst:
    • Dimmesdale, would you just confess already?! You're wasting away.
    • Nicely averted with Hester. Although Hester is grieved and despondent at her place as an outcast, she gathers dignity to live and redeems herself gradually to her townsfolk — she is forced to take responsibility, and so she does so. Dimmesdale, her obvious foil, wastes himself away.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?:
    • Pearl. Then again, this is a classic...
    • It is commonly taught in English classes the country over that the chapter "A Flood of Sunshine" is, in fact, one long literary metaphor for sex. Considering lines like, "All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest..." - well, is it any wonder?


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