The Scarlet Letter, is one of the first and finest "psychological
gothics." The book contains very little dramatic action and mainly deals
with the narrator's descriptions of his characters' thoughts, feelings and relationships.
This narrator also breaks other literary ground by not slipping into the background
and letting the storyline flow. He constantly interrupts the plot, speculates
on motives, offers his opinions, and suggests alternative views. Sometimes he
even takes part in the interactions, as when, in the first chapter, he plucks
a rose from a bush outside the town prison and offers it to you, the reader.
Furthermore, he claims to be guiding the story through its many macabre twists
based on various sources (manuscripts, gossip, rumors and legends) that may
or may not be reliable. The reader is often left to choose one or another version
of the tale, or to reject them all.
Hester Prynne is one of the great heroines of literature. Though Hawthorne
never condones her crime, he is, as described in Harry Levin's introduction,
"concerned to show that fundamental morality is not so much a series of
rigorous laws to be enforced by a meddling community as it is an insight to
be attained through continuous exertion on the part of the individual conscience."
An ambiguous blend of sin and virtue, pride and humility, severity and gentleness,
justice and mercy, the novel's true message may lie in what Hawthorne describes
as its true genre: The Scarlet Letter, says its author, is not so much
a novel as a romance," filled with details that disclose the "truth
of the human heart."