The Novel vs. Film of The Scarlet Letter
Films of this era are criticized for substituting violence and special effects for "substance". Many believe that creating a movie 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 notices the tremendous effort put into both. This essay will explore the many differences and similarities between the book and movie.
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...
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...and Dimmesdale move to the Carolinas to begin a new life, while in Hawthorne's novel, Pearl lives a full life, her mother working for the community and her father dying on the scaffold. There is no set answer as to which ending is "better," one may be more fulfilling, another may be more informative, another could touch a child, the other, a parent. One may favor the film over the novel or vice versa, but that person could not overlook the great care that went into the making of both. Using the novel as a base from which to work, the filmmaker created his own masterpiece, changing and adding elements as he felt necessary. Whether for increased popularity or his own personal satisfaction, the filmmaker's version also kept some themes and characters. The film and novel have their similarities and differences, but both effectively communicate their meaning to the public.
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