The Scarlet Letter

By Megan Thomas

Considered a masterpiece of American literature and a classic study of morality, I felt The Scarlet Letter was a bucket-list read. It’s dated in terms of its writing style and at times a bit repetitive, which can be expected given it was published in 1850, but it’s a fascinating insight into the era and has many themes which remain at the heart of society today.

When the unmarried Hester Prynne falls pregnant in New England, the legal course of action decided as appropriate punishment is not execution, but to wear a red A (for Adulterer) sewn to her breast – forever. And to stand in front of the town square for a daily dose of public shaming with her child, Pearl. Of course, the person who impregnated Hester remains a secret – one which she’s willing to take to her grave.

While perhaps not relatable in plot, parables of morality shine through. From the branding of people who act outside of social “laws” or behavioural standards, to the double standards which play out not just in terms of gender but power when a social crime is committed. We might not brand scarlet letters onto those who step out of line, but their tag on social media is just as hardy as the thread Hester used to sew her fate into place. We might not force moral offenders onto a platform in front of the town’s folk, but we certainly print their faces on the front of tabloids.

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