A Journey with “The Scarlet Letter”

A Journey with “The Scarlet Letter”

My name is Anesley Middlekauff. I am 15 years old and have been homeschooled with Charlotte Mason my whole life. I am the daughter of Art and Barbara Middlekauff, and I have enjoyed having them as my teachers and travel companions for every conference I’ve been lucky to be a part of. I am very grateful to have been introduced to music and nature at a young age, and being able to experience them along with my brothers.

I have done narrations from the very beginning, but have only really started doing written narrations for 5 years. I have always orally narrated to my mom, and I have vivid memories of narrating a Bible passage I read with my dad while he typed it out so it could be read and enjoyed later on. As I have done written narrations, I have learned many things about my narration style. When orally narrating, or narrating to my parents, I use a lot more of my own wording and style than I would if I were writing it down. When I do a written one, I try to write it in the same style as the book to the best of my ability. I have really noticed this with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Scarlet Letter started out as another school book that I had to read, but as I started reading it, it became so much more. I wrote my narration for the first chapter and after that, I knew that there was no way that I could orally narrate it. I have written my narration for all 23 chapters of The Scarlet Letter and have enjoyed every bit of it. I have tried my best to keep my narrations in the same style in which Hawthorne wrote it. With any other book, I have had no problem with writing one narration and orally narrating the next. But if I had orally narrated any part of this book, the meaning of it to me would have changed completely and it would not mean as much to me as it does now. I would not have been able to express it the way I wanted too. And I have concluded that this was my favorite book to narrate.

The Scarlet Letter has taught me that if you do end up doing something really bad—like Hester Prynne—atone for it, and essentially take the blow for it. Of course people will avoid you, or whisper things about you at first, but if you do things for the community, even if you don’t get anything in return, people will warm up to you again and welcome you like they used too.

A group of men dressed in sorry gray clothes and round rim stool hats with women in gray, some with hoods, others bareheaded, gathered at some edifice. Founders of a colony, no matter how Utopian they may try to seem, must recognize that a part of the virgin soil must be laid out for a cemetery, and another part for a prison.

(Excerpt from my original narration of chapter 1)

The townsfolk have almost a fear of Hester at the beginning, and resent her for her crime. But after accepting her punishment and honestly earning a living, her reputation perks up again. And she becomes the town’s own special thing its people would talk about.

Little acts and gestures had come to win the people’s hearts. They became convinced that the scarlet A that was beautifully embroidered and sparkled, stood for Able, so willing was she to help the sick and poor. To newcomers they would say, “See that woman with the brand? That is Hester, our towns very own Hester, who is so good to the sick and poor!” The higher ups were more reluctant to forget and dismiss the original significance of the brand. But in time, they too believed that Hester was heaven sent. Had Pearl never come to a physical form, Hester Prynne would have surely come down in history hand in hand with Ann Hutchinson.

(Excerpt from my original narration of chapter 13)

We have, as of yet, talked little about the child. Hester called her Pearl, her Pearl of great price.

(Excerpt from my original narration of chapter 6)

I really enjoyed reading about what Pearl did and how she grew during the course of the book. She serves as her mother’s penalty, a constant reminder of what she had done. At times I was intrigued by Pearl, and others times I thought of her as that one character in the story that everyone loves to hate: sometimes being content, other times refusing to recognize her own mother.

She then turned to Pearl and said, “Pearl, look there near the brook next to you.” Pearl did so and there was the scarlet letter glittering near the water, “Bring it hither.” ”Come get it yourself” Pearl replied. Hester saw now that she must retrieve it herself… She came towards it, picked it up, and fastened it back on her breast in the familiar spot, and she put the layers of hair back under her cap and a gray blanket covered her once again. “Now wilt thy come to your mother? Do you recognize your mother now that she is sad?” “Yes, I will.”

(Excerpt from my original narration of chapter 19)

Pearl was a creative and imaginative child and replaced real world friends with ones from her mind. They would run and play among the flowers of the field together. It didn’t take much for Pearl to take the nature around her and transform it into people, the tall, dark pines with wind running through them could easily be turned into Puritan teachers.

(Excerpt from my original narration of chapter 6)

When I got to chapter 6, the passage above was really interesting to me, and given that Hawthorne didn’t give any illustrations, I could create my own picture of what the scene might be like. On the same day that I read the chapter, I sketched a picture of that scene:

Pearl in the center with the trees and the “friends from her mind” around her. I drew Pearl the same way I would with any other person I’ve sketched, but when it came to the friends, I wanted to do something different. While sketching, the thing that was going through my mind was that I wanted the spectator to know that these were Pearl’s friends and no one else’s. And so I only drew their basic bodies, two of the four with flowing hair, but that was it, no fingers or toes and no facial features. Only Pearl could see them; others watching her play might think of her the same way adults think of children when they play with their imaginary friends, so that’s why I didn’t give them as much detail.

As if my written narrations and picture weren’t enough to show how much I enjoyed reading this book, The Scarlet Letter found its was into my book of centuries and commonplace as well. And I would like to share two of the quotes that made it into my commonplace book:

He [Roger Chillingworth] replied, “I have heard wonderful things about you as of late! Why, even yester-eve I was with a group of magistrates who said that a vote should be taken to see if we should remove your scarlet letter.” “This is not in their interest, for if it were, this letter would fall off of its own accord,” Hester replied.

*   *   *

He [Arthur Dimmesdale] threw off all assistance, and stepped passionately forward, “It was on him!” He continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out the whole. “God’s eye beheld it! The angles were forever pointing at it! The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit.”

I loved reading this book and I hope that you will choose to read it too. I hope you will be encouraged by this, and that The Scarlet Letter will come to mean as much to you as it does to me. I hope you will be able to relate to these wonderful characters and learn some life lessons along the way.

4 Replies to “A Journey with “The Scarlet Letter””

  1. Well done, Anesley! It’s been so many years since I’ve read “The Scarlet Letter”, and your essay brought back its impact on me. So many take a very simplistic view of this book as one which points out the disparity between what happens to a woman and what happens to a man who’ve committed some indiscretion.

    You, on the other hand, have pointed out not only the power of redemption but also “that all things work together for good…”. Well done!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading this again when my daughter reads it in a few years. I love how you pointed out that this book made it into your Conmonplace and your Book of Centuries in addition to your narrations.

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