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Levi, J. (1953). Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter: (A Psychoanalytic Interpretation). Am. Imago, 10(4):291-306.

(1953). American Imago, 10(4):291-306

Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter: (A Psychoanalytic Interpretation)

Joseph Levi, Ph.D.

“The publication of The Scarlet Letter was in the United States a literary event of first importance. The book was the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country. There was a consciousness of this in the welcome that was given it; a satisfaction in the idea of America having produced a novel that belonged to literature and to the forefront of it.” Thus Henry James (1, p. 111) describes the initial profound reaction of the American public to The Scarlet Letter.

James, of course, was not alone in his admiration for The Scarlet Letter. The novel has been, and is, highly regarded by virtually every critic. Mark Van Doren (2, p. 165), for example, describes The Scarlet Letter as “still the high mark of American fiction.” Robert Cantnell (3, p. 440), in discussing The Scarlet Letter, says that it is “The first novel in American fiction to take its place with the masterpieces of world literature.” John G. Gerber (4, p. 13) states that it is the “greatest work of fiction yet produced by an American.”

The question arises, however, what is it about this book that stirs the reader to his depths? Why is this a great novel? A number of critics have attempted to explain this.

Some claim that its greatness may lie in the theme of the novel. Van Doren, however, asserts that its theme is an old one. In fact, the theme of The Scarlet Letter was used a number of times in various ways by Hawthorne himself. The things that puzzle us are how and why he suddenly converted a familiar theme to greatness.


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