The Scarlet Letter: Novel vs. Film

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Films of this era are criticized for lacking "substance" and making up for this deficit with explosions and special effects. Books command a bit more respect from the general public. Many believe that devising a script is a juvenile form of writing, a shrub to the oak of a novel. Upon reading both the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and viewing the film produced by Roland Joffe, one can immediately notice the intense work put into both., as well as the many differences and similarities between them. It takes more thought to progress past these common and uncommon factors, to think of why the filmmaker may have used a certain lighting, or how colors were used to symbolize themes from the book. Analysis answers the questions: "How did the two differ? How were they the same? Why did the filmmaker make these decisions?"

The film is "freely adapted" from the novel. The word "free" describing the adaptation is well used- there are major differences in terms of time frame, characters, visual imagery and symbolism, plot, narration, and tone. Nearly an hour of information the reader received only as background was on tape. The film began when Hester arrived in the New World, not at the dreary prison door she passed through on her way to the scaffold in the novel. Many characters were added to the film, several of whom were central to the plot. Mituba, Hester's mute slave girl, Brewster, the lewd, undisciplined rule-breaker, Goody Gotwick, the mouthpiece of the community's "pious women," and Minister Cheever, the powerful church leader who attempted to serve as arbiter of the community's morals did not exist in the novel. Mistress Hibbins' relationship to Governor Bellingham was of a citizen to ruler nature. In the book, their relationship prevented her persecution, whereas in the movie, no family ties protected mistress Hibbins from the cruel witch trials characteristic of the 1600's. Her character progressed from minor in the book to a supporting role in the movie. She served as the only character besides Hester who behaved according to her personal beliefs, and not the conformities of the Puritans. Dimmesdale's character was stronger in the film; less tormented. He did not appear to have heart trouble, (although it was mentioned when the film commenced that he died before Pearl reached her teens) and took a dynamic role in all occasions except for one involving Mistress Hibbins, when he became angry that Hester hid her from the magistrates. He longed for Hester to name him as her co-sinner, and genuinely despised hiding behind a hypocritical silence. When Hester refused to name her lover in the book, Dimmesdale had this reaction: "She will not speak!" murmured Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew back, with a long respiration. ‘Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart! She will not speak!" He was soothed upon discovering Hester's strength. He sighed and sat back, the pressure off him, while he marveled at her courage. In the exact scene in the film, the viewer could see only Dimmesdale's pleading face and a blurred mass of spectators while he begged Hester to reveal him, to liberate him of his sin. Dimmesdale also displayed his strength through tirelessly visiting Hester's prison cell every day, disregarding the rules that she could receive no visitors, and each day he was wrestled from the prison door by several beadles. In writing, Dimmesdale was not inclined to do anything with the potential of arousing suspicion. Chillingsworth had little influence on Dimmesdale in the film. Hester provided her lover with a wealth of information about her ex- husband; within seconds of their meeting, Dimmesdale was fully aware of the presence of the "black man." Chillingsworth's evil influence played more of a public role, not restricted to a gnawing one weak man to wretchedness. Rather than making vague, fleeting comments...
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