Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter Writing Style

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Writing Style

Ornate, Formal, Thorny, Biblical, Shadowy, Comma-Loving

Get out your passports: Hawthorne's style is so strange to our modern ear that it's almost like visiting a foreign country. (It was rough going for the time, too; check out a book like Charles Dickens' Bleak House, written around the same time, and you'll see that not everyone wrote like this.)

Thanks to words like "ignominy" and "cogitating" continually tripping us up, and Hawthorne's passionate love affair with the comma, these sentences can be truly epic:

Doomed by his own choice, therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his unsavory morsel always at another's board and endure the lifelong chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at another's fireplace, it truly seemed that this sagacious, experienced, benevolent old physician, with his concord of paternal and reverential love for the young pastor, was the very man, of all mankind, to be constantly within reach of his voice. (9.16)

If you feel like you've just run a marathon with your brain, it's cool. The trick with Hawthorne is to try to understand the backbone of the sentence. In this case the sentence is basically just saying, "because Dimmesdale has chosen a life of solitude, the fatherly doctor is the perfect companion for him." Get out the sculptor's tools, and don't be afraid to chip away at the sentences you encounter in this novel. You just might strike solid gold.

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