"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • March 31, 2013 · 7:00 PM

In the absence of her husband, a woman is impregnated and gives birth. Oh, the scandal! While today it's considered fodder for cheap talk shows and reality tv, in the 17th century in Puritanical America it was considered one of the ultimate sins, and was punished as such. In "The Scarlet Letter" Nathaniel Hawthorne gives us four characters; the tortured soul, the man bent on revenge, the child ostracized by the community, and her mother- the strong and silent heroine. Praised for the depth and development he gives his characters as well as asking the reader to question sin, morality, strength and guilt, this is considered to be Hawthorne's magnum opus.


The guys as Schmoop, one of the literary help websites I'm a fan of, have this for their write-up.


The Scarlet Letter In A Nutshell

The Scarlet Letter was published by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, when the United States of America was not yet 100 years old. Upon its release, the novel became an instant hit, as it dealt with community, passion, wild emotion, and rule-breaking. Many Americans were excited to read a book that explored an integral chapter in their country’s history. The novel is set in mid-17th centuryMassachusetts Bay Colony (read: old school Boston), and it follows Hester Prynne and her lover over the course of seven years. Are you intrigued yet? Read on.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Bowdoin College graduate, hung out in college with the likes of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future United States President Franklin Pierce. After graduating, Hawthorne found a job at the Custom House (a building where people monitored and documented goods for import and export) in Salem; he was fired from this position in 1849. Shortly thereafter, his mother (who had raised him single-handedly) passed away. Life was not so good. So Hawthorne (who had wanted for so long to write the great American novel) decided to write a book. And that book contained all of the emotion that a grieving man could muster. 

The result of Hawthorne’s sudden unemployment is the beautiful, heart-wrenching tale of Hester Prynne. Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter feverishly and furiously, and when he read the final words of the final chapter to his wife, she ran to bed crying. At that point, Hawthorne knew he had a hit on his hands. (Source: Marx, Leo. Foreword. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Signet Classics, 1980.)

Hawthorne has an interesting connection to early colonial American history: his ancestors played a role in the persecution of Quaker women, as well as in the prosecution of women in the Salem Witch Trials. In "The Custom House," the preface to this novel, the narrator alludes to this history, taking blame for the actions of these ancestors and hoping that any curse brought about by their cruelty be removed.

Before we set you loose upon the stunning world of mid-17th century Boston, we want to mention that this was a society governed by Puritans, religious men and women who settled at Plymouth Rock, founded Boston, and began the experiment that grew into the United States of America. The Puritans left the Church of England (the Christian church of, well, England), which they felt was becoming too lax in its doctrines. They sought a purer form of their religion. At the heart of this novel is the concept of man’s relationship to himself and to a Christian God. Hawthorne sets his novel in a deeply religious time, and, thus, the language of the novel and the themes invoked contain deeply religious undertones.


New to the Hungry Hundred Book Club?  Here's what you need to know:

1. Read the book

2. Come to the meeting, always on the last Sunday of every month

3. Be prepared to order food/drink at the venue (where ever that may be) to show our appreciation for letting us use their space

4. Discuss!  It's a casual conversation, so don't be afraid to ask questions and let us know what you think.

If this book inspires a creative element in you, please write a piece for the Creative Component of our book club.  It can be about anything that has something to do with the book or the discussion.  It might get you a free book!  Check our facebook page or send me a message for more information.

The book to be given away for this month: The Kite Runner


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  • Bey Y.

    I just came across this meetup group so I haven't gotten a chance to read The Scarlet Letter. Can I still join?

    March 30, 2013

    • Rachel

      Sure! We'll be discussing plot, characters, etc, but you are welcome to join and see what it's about.

      March 31, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Do you know where to meet yet?

    March 29, 2013

    • Rachel

      It will most likely be at Nabins on Bali lane, but I've been out of town and couldn't get through to confirm before I left. I'll post a location for sure tomorrow!

      March 29, 2013

  • Rachel

    Don't forget, I have some copies of The Kite Runner to give away! All you have to do to stand a chance to be one of the lucky recipients is write something for the Creative Component, inspired by the book or discussion. Send it to me by email or on the Facebook page by April 8th. :)

    March 28, 2013

  • Rachel

    Venue will be posted soon! Just waiting to confirm. :)

    March 26, 2013

  • Cassandra

    Where is the venue?

    March 25, 2013

  • Dora

    Where is the venue?

    March 23, 2013

  • Rachel

    Hey guys! I think someone had sent me an email asking for more details about the meetings, but unfortunately it got deleted! If that was you, I'm not trying to ignore you, so please feel free to contact me again if you have any questions about anything at all. :)

    March 16, 2013

  • Cassandra

    The first thought that came to my mind is that this book published back then is similar to Fifty Shades of Grey published now. There is nothing about it that is alien yet women are so taken by the fact that there is a book so explicit on the shelves.

    1 · February 25, 2013

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