The one thing that Rosanne Welch and David Poland agree on in their assessments of Roland Joffe's "The Scarlet Letter" is that they hate Hawthorne so much that they did everything they could to avoid reading him ("Does Changing 'Scarlet' Make for a Red-Letter Day?," Calendar, Oct. 30). Welch sees the book narrowly as an anti-feminist morality tale, but to read Hawthorne in that fashion is to ignore the subversive, even feminist currents in the book. At the end of the book, a group of disenfranchised women began to come to Hester Prynne's cottage "demanding [to know] why they were so wretched, and what the remedy." They were comforted by Hester's vision of a "brighter period" in which "a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness." These are the women who, in Joffe's version, are accused of witchcraft.
Poland criticizes Joffe for introducing Native Americans as "set dressing," and he may be right in this. But here, and in his introduction of a theme of witchcraft into the plot, Joffe seems to be building up on a larger reading of Hawthorne's works in an attempt to create a prequel to "The Scarlet Letter." Much of the movie, after all, is an attempt to imagine events that led up to the opening scene of the book, when Hester and her child emerge from the prison to face the Puritan crowd.