Thursday, May 26, 2011

HS Rereading & Review - The Scarlet Letter

I reread The Scarlet Letter last week. I've been working on two historical MSs, so it was part-research, part-curiosity.

TSL was first assigned to me in tenth-grade English, and I remembered thinking it was the most laborious book I'd ever been forced to read.

The language was so archaic and dense--Who writes like this? And the descriptions of all the minutiae--Oh, God! Why?

But I slogged through it.

I went to a magnet school, and we were drilled that we were "college prep." We were selling ourselves short if we didn't do our best. And as one of my friends said in horror, "If you don't do the assignment, how will you ever get those points back?"

Yeah. That was my high school experience. But it was good for me. No complaints.

So anyway, going in I anticipated something like this: Boring, boring, boring. Sudden intensity! The End.

Rereading it as a married mother with a few adult relationships under my belt, I had a very different response than I did at 15.

I can now appreciate the story of the pretty young bride, the disfigured, neglectful older husband, the smart, charismatic young minister.

I empathized with the whole single mother situation, and could imagine the added pain of being alone, a social outcast. I also could understand better why Hester wouldn't reveal her illigetimate child's father.

The scene in the woods when she bares her soul to her baby-daddy (I won't spoil it in case anyone on the planet hasn't read this book) was particularly poignant.

Hester was a young girl in love. And she glamorizes her otherwise mundane life with her protection of her co-conspirator.

At the same time BD still irritates me. He's ambitious and allows Hester to hide his guilt so he can go on pursuing his career goals.

Yet he's so weak, his hypocricy literally kills him. He can't muster the strength to leave it all behind and take Hester and Pearl away. Even after confessing his love for her.

Wow. Hats off to Hawthorne. I think I've met that male protagonist. And I know I've been guilty of playing Hester before in at least one relationship. Forget my needs, I love him!


So no wonder it's a classic. Now here's my question: Is this book wasted on a 15-year-old audience?

I taught 15 year-olds, and I guess my answer would be, "Not if it's done right." And alternatively, if they're not made to read it then, will they ever? And then will books like these be lost?

Doubtful about the lost part. It's a good book. I recommend picking it  up sometime, and feel free to skim the lengthy, dense descriptions of minutiae. I did.

Have a great week-end, reader-friends! Til Monday~ <3

(Hey, P.S. Read, or reread, any good classics lately?)


Laura Pauling said...

Tough question. We enjoy books much better when we choose to read them. Maybe if kids started out reading a portion but not forced to read the whole thing. I do wish schools would incorporate current books that are well written and appropriate for school, along with the older classics.

Sarah said...

I read it in high school and remember becoming increasingly fascinated by it as I read. I think it's important to have exposure to these books as a young person so you know about it and can come back to it if you want. I do think these classics are an important part of our kids' education. Oh--and did you decide on your terminology for the condition we discussed??

Old Kitty said...

You make me want to read this again!! I read this at 15/16 when I was into reading the classics. I think I enjoyed this - can't remember!! LOL!!

I do know being made to read Great Expectations at the same time - and the class near enough rebelled and demanded we read more "modern" books. I think we ended up reading Catcher in the Rye.

I think an eclectic mix of books would be good at that impressionable age! Take care

Vicki Rocho said...

I know I read this book about the same time you did, but other than the bare bones (woman has an affair and gets pregnant) I don't remember much. Guess it's time to dust it off!

And on a completely unrelated note, I saw a painting of Hawthorne once that made my jaw drop -- he was a hottie for his time!

Matthew MacNish said...

Ah Nathaniel. We took our kids to the House of Seven Gables last year when we were in Boston (Salem is not much of a drive), but they didn't care much for it, and neither of them have read any Hawthorne.

I try to read a few classics each year. Last year it was A Tale of Two Cities, The Sound and the Fury (again, because I still can't follow it all), and Ulysses. I haven't gotten to any yet this year, but I'm hoping for The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper, and Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

I think it's important to understand the roots of things.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I loved The Scarlet Letter in high school. I read it twice - so now you know what kind of nerd I am. :) Anyhoo... There's a new book When She Spoke by Hillary Jordan coming out that's supposed to be a takeoff set in the near future. Can't wait to get my hands on it!

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I could have written this post! I didn't care for it when it was forced on me.
I've had conversations with high schoolers about this book. They "get it" and bring it to the modern world.

Anita Grace Howard said...

What a great review! Thank you. :) I love the classics, and this is one I've yet to read. I agree, they're a little bit of work, but story always triumphs with the older tomes, you know? This is moving up on my TBR list now. Good weekend to you, too!

Anonymous said...

Now I have a sudden urge to reread that book!

I remember reading ROMEO & JULIET as a freshman in high school. Shakespeare wasn't exactly tops on everybody's reading list back then--all that archaic weird language and choppy sentences. But my teacher made it so dang interesting. We talked about the sentences, interpreting them. I swear you could hear a pin drop when she spoke. We loved that book, even the guys. I've never forgotten it and it got me excited to read more Shakespeare.

Tracy said...

Ummm, great question and while I was not made to read it, I did just because and I remember liking it but truth be told, I would love to go back and read it again with an 'adult perspective' as you say.
good thoughts Leigh!

Unknown said...

I think I may have to pick up the Scarlet Letter. Thanks for the heads-up!

PK HREZO said...

I was one of those weirdos that liked this book in high school. I think the scandal of it all intrigued me. But I think I need to read it again after your lovely post! :)

Jessica Bell said...

Mary-Shelley's Frankenstein! :o) I loved it. You ever read it? It's such an intense book.

M Pax said...

I enjoyed The Scarlet Letter, but couldn't get thru chapter one of the House of Seven Gables. :-( I tried. More than once.

I enjoy a lot of the old classics. I love Dickens and Hardy and Tolstoy. So, I read a lot of archaic stuff. The Deerslayer and all it's sequels. I usually find something interesting -- I like the glimpses into other times and mindsets that the old stuff gives. Usually. But not House of Seven Gables. lol

Anonymous said...

Om my goodness. I haven't read the Scarlet Letter in years. I'll have to add this one to my TBR book list so I can re-read it.

Jenna Wallace said...

I haven't reread it in a long time and I think I'll have to throw it on to my TBR pile. And I do think it is tough to expect teens to understand some of the themes and emotions that run through these classics. I think they glean some of it, but much of it can't be truly appreciated until we are (older) wiser.

Hart Johnson said...

I haven't read it (hides). I own it and intend to read it... but I think you're absolutely right... done RIGHT. My Junior English teacher totally could have taught it. She was INCREDIBLE with both Huck Finn and Streetcar Named Desire (opposite ends of the spectrum, I'd say) and even managed with Julius Caesar pretty darned well--though it took my Senior Shakespeare teacher cackling as one of the witches in MacBeth and call him Billy Jigglejavelin to really woo me to Shakespeare). It's because she (back to my Jr. teacher) wasn't afraid to SAY what the book (because of the times) couldn't come out and SAY (Stanley RAPED Blanche; Hucks dad was going through the DTs because he was addicted to whiskey). There may have been parents who would have taken issue, but I think that is how you show kids the story is relevant to things they care about and think about. [rock on, Sylvia James, RIP]

Janet Johnson said...

I read this back in 10th grade, too. And I actually read it. But yeah, it was laborious.

I kindof think they will get lost if they aren't taught in HS. Hopefully as adults we want to read these classics, but I have my doubts (for myself at least).

Kids can do it, and teachers can teach it in an interesting way. It's definitely possible. I say keep trying!

LTM said...

@Laura--I think you're right about mixing like that. I mean, you can't build on literature like a history class b/c the younger students will get frustrated reading nothing but that old stuff. But I think they do need to read the classics to see what's back there... :D <3

@Anita--Hey, you're welcome! And MAN! Get reading TSL--it's very short, and by Ch. 17, you'll be like, "Whoa." :D

@Liz--Read it, read it, read it... :D And again, awesome teachers win. <3

@PK--I remember ultimately liking it in HS, too. But I know I didn't get it the way I just got it. Hello! :D LOL! <3

Lydia Kang said...

I haven't read it. (*hides in shame*). But I'd love to. I think it's fascinating how you can have totally different perspectives at different ages. So no, I don't think it's lost on a 15 year old.
Great post!

Ellie Garratt said...

Fascinating post. I studied Tess of the d'urbervilles for A'Level English Lit and hated it. I wonder if I read it now I would exeperience the same reaction as you?

Ellie Garratt

Michelle Merrill said...

Okay, confession. I haven't read this. I kind of had awful English teacher's and this was the last thing that would've come up on the curriculum. Not that I feel like I missed it at 15 but I need to pick it up now.

I would reread Pride and Prejudice any time. That is by far my favorite classic :)

Summer Ross said...

I will be reading the book for the first time this summer for one of my literature classes. I'm looking forward to it.

KM Nalle said...

I haven't read it *hangs head* I did recently get it for my Kindle though (I pinky swear). But in truth it was because I saw the movie Easy A and totally loved it. *hangs head again* I had planned to read later this summer. Maybe I'll move it up on the list.

LTM said...

@Summer--I bet you like it. It's a little work, but it's a short book. And the intensity builds and really takes off around Ch. 17. I didn't even mention Chillingworth~ :D <3

Theresa Milstein said...

I read this in my first year of college. I appreciated the story, feeling for Hester deeply. But man, it's PAGES until there's actually some dialogue.

The right teacher culls the story out for the students so they don't miss what's poignant through the heavy language.

Julie Musil said...

I am one of those few on the planet who haven't read this yet! Our high school teachers didn't make us read the classics. At the time I was glad, but now I wish they'd made us. This is one of many I still need to read.

Anonymous said...

My class practically fell asleep when we read this back in high school. When I had to read Hawthorne's short stories in college, I cringed thinking I'd hate them, but I loved them. I had more experience reading and understanding classics. I think if I read The Scarlet Letter now I'd probably enjoy it.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I agree with you that if a teacher offers engaging discussions on classic literature then the students will find it more worthwhile. Thanks for this interesting post! Julie