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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.
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:
- 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.
- In the film, Roger Chillingworth murders a man and then frames an American Indian for the crime. Nothing remotely similar occurs in the novel.
- 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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