Yeah, I know, The Scarlet Letter is a classic about sin and redemption and the mysteries of God. But that’s not how I read it, or what it meant to me. To me reading it, this is a love story. This is about a good woman who loves a good man, who come together in love, and produce a child they both love. And everyone is miserable. Why? Religion. Perhaps it’s just the run of books I’ve been reading lately, but nothing will more convince you that religion is for sex-obsessed sexual neurotics, and does no good to either man nor beast, than reading this book. Everyone prying into their neighbours’ business, keeking through keyholes, looking down their noses on one another. Meanwhile the good go on doing good, the selfish go on suiting themselves. But with the added factor that the good are perpetually tormented for doing things that do little or no harm, are driven mad with self-loathing, ruin their health contemplating their abasement, and are actually led to real acts of harm, like disavowing their children and shunning those they love for the sake of social acceptance.
Now I know the scarlet letter is A for adultery and that means Hester Prynne’s a cheat, not a very nice thing and something that does cause real harm and anguish to people. Except that in this case it hasn’t. Hester’s husband is a dick, and an absent dick at that (at the time of her affair), she never led him on or claimed to love him, and married him because of social convention. Moreover, he was never under any illusion she loved him, it never seemed to bother him, and he was so attached to her he sends her to live in this puritanical community by herself while he does whatever before joining her. This is not some heart-rending destruction of a loving bond. They married because it was expected. They had no kids. They weren’t even living together at the time. Now she finds love and the chance to be happy – boom! No luck. Watch your life drip away in social exclusion and loneliness, miserable and self-loathing. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Honestly, this, like many books focusing on the Christian faith in real life, just makes me think “Why would anyone ever chose this?” Hester Prynne is a good person. She does nothing wrong. Her life is spent helping people – both before and after the A. Yet she regards herself as a pitiful and disgusting sinner – something we’re supposed to think is a good thing – and lives in fear that she is unworthy of redemption and God’s love and will go to Hell after she dies. Fuck. Why believe something like that? Why chose that religion if it’s just going to make you miserable and afraid and keep you from happiness? Why worship a God who you can only come to grovelling and despising yourself? And if you ever get over that you did a bad thing once, then the redemption is removed, like when Hester casts off her A. The minute you say, “I’m not going to torture myself over this anymore,” the forgiveness, the redemption is undone. Only hating yourself makes you beloved to God.
I don’t get it. I really don’t.