The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nina Baym, Thomas E. Connolly

The characters in The Scarlet Letter raise as much sympathy in me as do characters in a badly- filmed and overdramatic soap opera. Dimmesdale, the "hero" of the piece, is a spineless worm that deserves to be squashed. It is impossible to imagine this cringing, crawling invertebrate ever playing the part of a passionate lover. Chillingworth, the villain of the piece, has about as much depth and creativity as his name. He could have been an interestingly twisted character, but is instead reduced to a plot device to keep the action going. He has about as much depth as a villain in a silent movie who laughs maniacally and twirls his mustache as he ties the heroine to a railroad track--not that he would need to actually tie down Hester, the heroine. If told to stand on the racetrack, she would probably do it. The "humble narrator" (yes, he calls himself this) idolizes Hester for her return to domesticity, self-flagelation, and protection of the man who should at least share her punishment. Yet she then flips implausibly back and forth from meek and apologetic to fiery and passionate. Hawthorne has no excuse for such poor writing. Other authors of the time, such as Jane Austen, write with sparkle and interest, with tangibly lifelike characters. Hawthorne’s book is at the same level of flamboyantly unreal drama as Alcott’s The Inheritance or The Long, Fatal Love Chase.