All tagged Nathaniel Hawthorne

Teaching the Classics: The Scarlet Letter


Note: This is the first in an ongoing series from Sandra, retired high school English teacher and current substitute teacher in the same subject area, discussing the classic novels she taught, their relevance to today's teens and pairings with contemporary fiction.  

I taught high school literature for twenty-six years, many of the same books year after year. You’d think they would become ho-hum with a huge yawn after a few years. 

No so. 

There’s always something new and fresh that first-time readers bring to a text so it stands the test of time—meaning they relate to the characters and situations regardless of era or setting. Some books are simply universal. The Scarlet Letter, which I've written about previously, stands out for the fresh perspectives my students would bring to them each time I taught these books.

It’s all about making connections and drawing parallels.

I recall one student gingerly holding a copy of The Scarlet Letter between her thumb and index finger. The expression on her face was somewhere between horror and admiration as I shared that I had taught, and therefore read, this book every single year.

“What? You’ve actually read this at least twenty times? That’s that’s—I don’t know what is is,” my student said.

Read the rest--> 

American classics have long held my interest. They bring into focus the eras in which they were written and capture moments in our nation’s diverse and unique history.

I’ve selected six of my favorites to recommend, ones that I enjoyed teaching as well. I’m not listing them in a specific order, rather I’m arranging them as they came to mind. Enjoy!

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne*

Hester Prynne who lives in Puritan New England is condemned by her peers as a scarlet women who must wear an A upon her bodice to proclaim her adultery to all. She skillfully creates this letter embroidered onto fine red cloth with elaborate style in gold thread. The book delves into the murky world of sin, punishment and retribution with the saving grace of love woven in.

Pearl, her daughter, comes into a world where she becomes the physical embodiment of sin. Hester’s partner in passion is the Reverend Dimmesdale who allows Hester to sacrifice and carry the punishment for their crime alone while he moves about their village as a veritable saint. Hester’s husband, Chillingworth who has  long been absent, returns to see his wife with babe held in her arms pilloried in the town square for all to despise. A trap ensues by Chillingworth to snare Dimmesdale in a vicious web of lies and treachery. This is not an easy read but one that I find so complex and fascinating that my opinion about various characters changes each time I revisit it. 

I do have one caution. The introduction titled “The Custom House” is tedious. It can easily be skipped without impacting your reading of the novel.

Amazon / BN / Goodreads

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This tale of George and Lenny who travel from ranch to ranch earning a subsistence living in the 1930s will break your heart, but you will love the novel and think about its implications long after you’ve read it.

Big and strong, Lenny is a sweet child in a man’s body. Smaller and smart, George is the classic tragic hero. He loves Lenny and has promised to care for and protect him. This slender 100 page volume packs emotion into every page. You’ll laugh, frown and cry over what occurs but you’ll  love George and Lenny. The language will not challenge you but the sophistication of the plot will alter your concepts of what is or is not moral and what choices are right or wrong.