This book has been on my mind for years and I finally got to finish it. I had actually planned on reading this years ago, but as I started to read then, I was put off by how the author starts by talking about himself, his profession, and how he's probably not looked upon well by his forefathers for doing whatever it is that he is doing. Thankfully this time, I got through that and I am glad that I did.
The story is set in 17th century Boston, Massachusetts, about a woman named Hester Prynne, married to a doctor named Roger Chillingworth, who bears a child out of wedlock and the consequences that follow thereof. The man in question, Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, goes through myriad emotions, which show the extent of damage that sin does to his soul.
The thing that struck me the most about this book is the way Rev. Dimmesdale confesses his sin when all other doors are shut on him. I honestly thought this book was going to end in murder because I doubted the moral resolve of the reverend. And I doubted his moral resolve, because I misunderstood him.
We live in a culture that takes pride in pushing boundaries. We question, we theorize, we are creative without restraint. And we have extended this into the moral realm. I find that if I put my contemporary culture glasses on, what the reverend does seems amusing at best.
But it is fascinating to me that neither the reverend, nor Hester deny neither the love that they have for each other nor the fact that what they have done is indeed horrible, a sin. That thought which the serpent put into Eve long time ago, to question right and wrong, I felt, was absent in both of them. I think this is the very reason the story doesn't make a Cain out of the reverend. For all his faults, the reverend never corrupts the Christian morality of his soul, even though he suffers because of it. Understandably, he thinks of running away with Hester because of the humiliation he might face if he confessed, and the tormenting hypocrisy if he stayed in that place. But when that door of escape is shut on them, he does what needed done and confesses his sin, before all. He did what Cain was not able to do, contend sin and master it.
The doctor on the other hand is the most pitiable character. It was of no explicit fault of his own that he was cheated on by his wife. But he takes the wrong way and lets vengeance consume him. I do not think he would have, in a fit of passion murdered the reverend, but he pleasured himself by tormenting the reverend and Hester every day of their lives. When he found out that they want to run away, he did not stop them, but instead wanted to join them in their flight. Although he seems satanic in his cruelty, I feel that utmost pity for him for I don't know what I would say to him, had I met him in his despair. I guess when vengeance consumes you, you become the devil himself.
In a strange way, I find this book similar to 'Crime and Punishment' by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The parallels between what Raskolnikov experiences and what Rev. Dimmesdale goes through would be a fun avenue to tread on.
This book is a must read. The biggest criticism of the book was that the language was unnecessarily difficult. It wasn't an issue for me at all because I love modern 17th English. The language will take time getting used to, but it's worth the effort.