I received a free e-copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Scarlet Letter is an adaptation of the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story is set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, and tells the tale of Hester Prynne who has committed adultery and must now bear a scarlet A upon her clothes for her crime.
When I first started reading this story, I was wondering if I would be able to understand it. Often times I find myself completely confused with classic novels because they use too much symbolism and stiff language. The story comes across just fine as we follow Hester who is shunned by her community after they find out she’s committed adultery. Nobody knows who her husband is and even a villager mentions that me might have died at sea but still they condemn her and her child of sin.
Luckily, our protagonist is a strong one and instead of letting this shame consume her, she learns from it and betters herself even when everyone rejects her.
The scarlet letter on her chest is clearly understood to mean adultery among the adults but I found it especially amusing that the children didn’t know what it meant, which made the meaning of it change. Hester used it as a reminder of her crime while her daughter Pearl saw it as something she would one day wear as a sign of adulthood. The children in the village also never knew what it stood for but they would resort to violence because their parents shunned Hester. But in seven years, those same children dubbed the A to mean Able, which I felt Hester embodied rather well.
Her needlework was great and she earned a living from this, which was ironic considering how people still sneered at her. She helped the sick, tried to give charity to the poor, and in her later years, gave advice to people who were in need of guidance.
At one point the symbol seemed to become Hester as Pearl refuses to approach her unless she put on the A on her chest again.
In terms of character designs, there were a couple things that were done with the characters. At the beginning, we get some background information on Hester’s married life and how it had all been arranged for her. Her husband, Dr. Chillingworth, is described as having been a scholar and having one shoulder higher than the other. He even describes himself as deformed but it’s only in his pursuit for revenge that we can see a deformity in his character: the snake that seems to always surround him, his manic expressions, and his withered body that doesn’t seem to give out until Hester’s lover is gone.
Another character that really stood out to me was Pearl, Hester’s daughter. There was just something about her eyes and character design that really pulled me towards her. If anyone has ever read Umineko when they cry, she reminded me of the little girl in the story.
Pearl is a very wild child who strikes at trees she’s dubbed Puritan elders, throws rocks at birds and bullies, and who can be described as otherworldly. Her eyes are blank, she can approach wild animals, and overall she just has that faerie vibe. And then we get moments like this one where she looks like she’s possessed by the devil.
At first that’s actually what I thought and was expecting some kind of horror to pop out at me but nothing did. For the most part she was just very lively, but then near the end I noticed a couple people who started resembling Pearl. There was her father who was on his deathbed and one of the villagers that invited Hester to a witch’s company in the forest to meet the “man in black.” I felt like the eyes were one way to show that the man in black had somehow touched these people.
The last of the important characters was Reverend Dimmesdale, who we meet very early on in the manga. While his character design doesn’t stand out, the fact that his hand is always placed on his chest is important because it outs him as Hester’s lover. At the end of the story there is an explanation made by the manga’s writer Crystal S. Chan, where she reveals that in the novel, the symbol that’s placed on his chest is ambiguous (did it physically exist?) and they wanted to do the same here.
When he reveals himself to be Hester’s lover, he opens his shirt and shows the villagers his own letter, however, as viewers we don’t see anything. I thought that was well done and I like the contrast between Hester and him.
Hester had to bear the mark openly and feel the repulsion of the villagers. She had to earn the respect that people started showing her seven years later. On the other hand, Dimmesdale didn’t reveal he had committed sin and was loved by all the villagers for his compassionate nature. That silence consumed him, wouldn’t let him rest no matter what good deeds he did, and that eventually lead to his deathbed.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Parting Thoughts: Having the classics turned into manga format (or comic in general) is a really good way to get more people to read classics. While what I read was possibly a watered down version of the novel, I didn’t feel it was incomplete because of the attention to detail. All of the characters, even side ones, served a purpose from when they were first shown, up until the end. I also really enjoyed the endnotes from the manga’s writer about the process they went through in adapting the novel to manga format.
Would I purchase this book for a friend/me? Yes