The following article summarizes the original event which is listed below the summary.

Book Notes | ‘The Scarlet Letter’

April 19, 2024, at 2pm

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was set in the 1600s in a small town in Puritan New England. The townspeople felt they had to punish Hester Prynne because she had a baby and, as far as they knew, was not married. Her punishment was to wear a red letter “A” (for “adultery”) on her bosom for the rest of her life. She refused to reveal who the father was.

Hester was ashamed and yet lived her life and raised a precocious little girl named Pearl. If Hester had to wear the letter, she was going to make it beautiful. She sewed an elaborate, ornamental type of broach. The townspeople saw her talent as a seamstress, and this is how she made her living. 

Enter a stranger

The young and respectable Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was the town’s minister. Arthur had his own demons that encouraged self-flagellation and fasting to a point of weakness. Enter a stranger to town, Roger Chillingworth. He professes to be a doctor and therefore able to help the struggling minister. Roger moves in with Arthur to monitor the reverend’s health. 

We find out that Roger and Hester had been married but she left him, saying she never loved him. No one in town is aware of this and yet, although we don’t know how, we think Roger knows that Arthur is Pearl’s father.

The reverend feels terribly guilty about his sin and cowardice, hence his self-hate. Toward the end of the story, Hester, Pearl, and Arthur plan to return to England together to start a new life. But events intervene to keep this from happening.

The UMRA Book Club members thought this was a very difficult read. It was written in an Old English style and riddled with many words that we do not use anymore. Sentences go on and on, and the reader would lose track of the message the author was trying to convey. Some readers wondered why The Scarlet Letter was on high school reading lists. Also, for being such a long story, the ending was wrapped up pretty quickly and, some thought, contrived.

—Joni Mitchell, UMRA Book Club I




Book Club to meet April 19, 2024

Fri, Apr 19 2024, 2pm

Event to be held via Zoom.

Joni Mitchell will lead the discussion of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne when the UMRA book club meets via Zoom at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 19. Originally published in 1850, this classic novel is set in Puritan Boston during the years 1642 to 1649. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair but refuses to reveal her lover’s identity. The Scarlet Letter chronicles how she suffers publicly for her choices and how she works to create a new life of repentance and dignity. 

Email Pat Tollefson at [email protected] for more information. To read summaries of the book club’s discussions, go to umra.umn.edu and search for “Book Notes.”

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