How Long Does It Take To Read The Scarlet Letter

How long do you think it takes to read the book The Scarlet Letter?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It depends on your reading level and your ability to immerse yourself in the book.  Seeing that you are a student (and not a teacher), I would ask yourself a couple of questions.  The first would be how long you anticipate each night devoting to the book.  From my own personal experience of reading the book, I can't see Hawthorne's book being done in one setting and having make any comprehensible sense.  This book is a fairly intense study of human nature and the challenges of social ostracizing and hypocrisy.  There is much in here that takes time in digesting intellectually, and his style of writing can prove to be a challenge.  I would say an interrupted set of 45 minutes to an hour would be appropriate.  The second question I would ask is if you plan on having any type of assistance with you as you read.  Using the enotes summary or another type of summary device could be a very helpful guide to you as you read.  You should use it in conjunction with the reading, and not a substitute for it.  I think this will add about twenty minutes to your reading time.  The last question I would ask is how long you have for the time period of reading the book.  If you have a week and a half to two weeks, you could average about 20- 30 pages a night and get the book done.  I would also have to ask if you are receiving in class time to read, as well, or will this be strictly done outside of class.  That might impact your reading time for it.  I didn't address it here, but if you have nightly assignments with it, such as questions, writing prompts, worksheets, these will add on to your time, for while you could do them while you read the work, I wouldn't suggest it.

Having said all of this, it's a good read and is fairly important to American Literature.  Students I have worked with have not really enjoyed reading it, but liked the ideas coming out of it.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just to underscore the excellent advice of the others, and to add another suggestion:  Do a little research on Hawthorne, for so much of the man's thinking comes through in this novel.  His lines "Be true! Be true!" in a late chapter underscore his disdain for the Puritan hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that scarred his ancestors and their progeny.

A close reading of Hawthorne's novel is important because it has been praised as one of the greatest American novels because of the author's skillful use of symbolism.  Thus, you will want to pay attention to this element and not expect the characters to be so developed and realistic as in modern novels.  (as well as the allegorical aspect as mrsmonica has mentioned)  In fact, with this skillful use of symbolism, "The Scarlet Letter is a precursor to many modern American novels, and having read it will assist you in understanding better such novels.

As Mark Twain humorously remarked, "A classic is a novel that one wishes to say he/she has read without having to go to the trouble of reading it."  "The Scarlet Letter" is a novel that you may have to struggle with, but later you will be glad to have read it.


scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have encountered the same reading issues as Post #2 with my students.  Many find SL quite difficult to get through because of Hawthorne's extensive description, difficult vocabulary, and complicated sentence structure.  I have suggested to my students that they try to complete their reading assignment in SL first and then read a summarized or analyzed version of the that part of the text.  While this takes longer, many of my students have mentioned that it helped them see things that they had not inferred on their first read through a section.

I know that it will be tempting to just use SparkNotes or some other type of summary program, but try to read the text.  If you think of it as a challenge, it will benefit you more than reading only a summary.  Deciphering Hawthorne's writing is excellent practice for the reading sections of the SAT/ACT and AP exams.

Most of my students ask why Hawthorne didn't just write a short story instead of a  novel because they like the storyline but not the length and complicated diction.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just because something is difficult to read doesn't mean it shouldn't be read.  We are too accustomed to things being "easy".  Anything worth doing is worth doing right...that includes education. Invest in yourself and your future and work through the hard stuff.  You'll be a better person when you come out on the other side.

That having been said, most readers of average reading ability can finish this book in about 2 hours. However, I always take at least 2 weeks with this novel in my classes so we can think and talk about the beauty of the language, the imagery, and the human side of this story. Relax and enjoy the book. Put yourself in the shoes of the character you relate to most...this is how you allow a book to become part of you.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am guessing that you are asking this question in order to plan the number of days or hours it will take you?  Generally, and as long as the vocabulary and description don't stump you, I would allow about 14-15 hours for a nice, slow read.  This is not a novel that is a "quick" read, by any means.  It is not a piece of pop fiction (like Twilight) and, as such, has vast literary elements that are meant to be explored and absorbed.  If you can swing it, I would only read one chapter a day so you won't get "burned out."  If you need to be done sooner, then read two or three chapters per day; however, I would warn you against reading any more than that.  Any teacher would want you to absorb and enjoy this great piece of literature!  : )

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Scarlet Letter can be a difficult read even for advanced students, due to the vocabulary level and the allegorical nature of the story being told in the novel. If I were an average 10th grader tackling this novel for summer reading, I’d work on getting through no more than two to three chapters per calendar day. This would take you eight calendar days. I’d also consider using the chapter summaries to review AFTER reading the chapters in Hawthorne’s words. Summaries are very helpful in making sure that you understand what you have read and haven’t missed any important plot developments. Good luck with your reading!

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here's an eNotes site that discusses in some detail the estimated average reading time for the novel, as well as for the introductory essay, "The Custom House."

Once you go to the site, scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the section called "Estimated Reading Time.


This would be a guide, at least, to give you a general idea. I have to agree that The Scarlet Letter is a very challenging book. Hawthorne's sentence structure is long and complex, and I'm sure you will find many vocabulary words that are new to you.

charcunning eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Don't give up on this book no matter how long it takes you to read it! I know it's hard to read, but wow! The story is amazing and the characters are so real.

The strategy I use is to figure out how many days I have to read something, count the chapters and figure out a daily goal for # of pages.

Also, because this book is difficult, be sure to have a dictionary close by! If you have your own copy of the book, take notes right on the pages so that when it's time for class discussion you'll have all your information right there! :)

Good luck!

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just so you don't get discouraged, I can't imagine finishing this novel in 2 hours.  I have read it many times, and it always takes me at least 12 reading hours to complete it.  In the beginning it took a long time to get through the sentences/vocabulary as suggested above; now it takes me longer to enjoy Hawthorne's wonderful use of language, image, etc.

It will take you as long as it takes to read the novel; it depends what you want to do with it and get out of it.  I wouldn't worry about the time.  Enjoy the novel ... it's a great read.

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The Scarlet Letter

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