American Icons: The Scarlet Letter

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This is the novel that invented forbidden love.

One of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestors was a judge in the Salem witch trials. In his novel of early America, Hawthorne explores the tension between our deeply ingrained Puritanism and our celebration of personal freedom. Hester Prynne was American literature’s first heroine, a fallen woman who’s not ashamed of her sin. “I think the thing that makes it modern, though it’s hard to see,” says novelist Tom Perrotta (Little Children), “is that the real crime isn’t desire, it’s hypocrisy. I think that’s a specifically American view of sex.” And even in the age of the internet sex scandal, says Jezebel’s Lindy West, we still apply the scarlet A as punishment — “blaming women for their sexuality, and turning that into a moral failing.”

Special thanks to Nancy Schultz.

(Originally aired: November 1, 2013)

 

Bonus Track: Tom Perrotta on Nathaniel Hawthorne's influence 

Perrotta tells Anna Sale how Hawthorne influenced his novels The Leftovers and Little Children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 A still from the 1917 film adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. Arthur Dimmesdale (Stuart Holmes) and Hester Prynne (Mary Martin), with her daughter Pearl (Kittens Reichert).

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