What are three differences between the book and the 1995 movie, The Scarlet Letter?

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  • The characterization of Pearl. In the book, Pearl's quite a vivacious character, almost a wild child of nature on account of growing apart from society. But in the movie, she's virtually anonymous, scarcely uttering a single word throughout the entire film.
  • The ending. In true Hollywood fashion, there's blood...

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  • The characterization of Pearl. In the book, Pearl's quite a vivacious character, almost a wild child of nature on account of growing apart from society. But in the movie, she's virtually anonymous, scarcely uttering a single word throughout the entire film.
  • The ending. In true Hollywood fashion, there's blood and bullets galore as we approach the end of the 1995 film version of The Scarlet Letter. As well as a tacked-on happy ending, we're treated to a full-scale Algonquin invasion of Salem. It's like cowboys and Indians only without the cowboys.
  • Dimmesdale. In the movie Dimmesdale comes across as a much stronger character than in the book, considerably less prone to anguished guilt. In the original source material you can almost feel Dimmesdale's suffering, but not in the movie, whose happy ending—with Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl all riding off into the sunset to start a new life together—is pretty much telegraphed in advance.
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The 1995 film version is quite unfaithful to the original text.

1. Firstly, the novel begins after Hester has borne Pearl in prison. The opening has her ascending the scaffold with Pearl in her arms while the community watches. The reader is never directly shown the beginning of Hester and Dimmesdale's affair. However, the film goes into detail about the adultery, even showing the sexual consummation of their relationship.

2. The film includes a major subplot involving the Algonquian tribe, with Chillingworth trying to start a conflict between the Puritans and the natives. In fact, Hester and Dimmesdale become lovers when it is rumored that Chillingworth was killed by the Algonquian tribe. By comparison, the novel barely mentions any Native Americans and even then, only in passing.

3. In the film, Hester has an African slave named Mituba. This character is not in the novel, where Hester hasn't any slaves.

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The screenplay and direction of this 1995 film differ significantly from Hawthorne's 1850 novel; it cannot be called a faithful adaptation.  Here are three examples of major differences:

  1. The screenplay emphasizes conflict between the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the American Indians in the area. Hawthorne makes little mention of American Indians, and there is certainly no open conflict as the film depicts; moreover, Metacomet makes no appearance in the novel, as he does in the film.
  2. In the film, Roger Chillingworth murders a man and then frames an American Indian for the crime.  Nothing remotely similar occurs in the novel.
  3. In Hawthorne's novel, Dimmesdale keeps the secret of his paternity deeply under wraps and attempts to atone for his sin only by physically and mentally torturing himself. The film version portrays him as intent on making a public confession but being dissuaded by Hester.
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There are numerous differences between Hawthorne's classic The Scarlet Letter and the movie version.  There have been several movie adaptions, but I'm going to assume you mean the most recent 1995 version of the tale.

First, the novel is told by an unknown narrator, but the movie is narrated by Pearl. Remember in the novel, the narrator found the story of the letter in the custom house, and is telling the audience the story.

Also, in the novel we do not see the relationship between Dimmesdale and Hester unfold; it all occurs before the novel begins.  When we first meet Hester, she has already had Pearl and is being punished, but in the movie version, we see Dimmesdale and Hester met, fall in love, and commit their affair.

The biggest difference occurs in the end of the movie.  At the end of the movie Mistress Hibbins (who has become good friends with Hester) is charged as being and witch and Dimmesdale and Hester are able to escape together and run away to Charleston.  In the book Hester and Hibbins are not friends and since Dimmesdale dies after his Election Day Sermon, they do not run away and live Happily Ever After.

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