A Review of
Reading Like a Serpent: What the Scarlet A Is About
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Reviewed by Mary Bowling
Well, I admit it. I never had to read The Scarlet Letter in high school. Consequently, I didn’t read The Scarlet Letter in high school- or college, or after. I imagine that my initial reaction to the book- when I finally did read it – was similar to many others’: a vague sense of appreciation for Hawthorne’s multi-dimensional treatment of his characters coupled with a vague sense of confusion as to what, if anything, he was ultimately getting at. Luckily, the high-school student whose book I inherited had understood perfectly well and had written very succinctly on the last page “Theme: human beings should not judge others. Moral: Be true to yourself.” There you have it, as easy as pie, the exact same moral contained in every single Disney movie ever released!
Enter Marilyn Chandler McEntyre with her book, Reading Like a Serpent. After years of coaxing college students through Hawthorne’s novel, she feels compelled to provide the public with an opportunity to read this American classic again and to draw from it not only a critical understanding of Hawthorne’s purposes in his own storytelling, but also insights that come from scripture. McEntyre, like Hawthorne, writes to a Christian audience and urges them on toward a more full and true reading of scripture. Each chapter in McEntyre’s book expounds upon a biblical theme that is elemental to The Scarlet Letter, such as confession, childlikeness and children, judgment, and love of neighbor. Central also are ideas related to the use and misuse of language, and the roles of civilization and wildness.