‘The Scarlet Letter’ Found in the 21st Century

No matter how much time has passed, you are bound to see pop culture references and retellings of your classic favorites. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ lives on in 2023!

Adaptations Adult Fiction Book Culture On This Day Pop Culture Recommendations TV & Movies

The Scarlet Letter tells a story of a woman who stands trial by her puritan community when it’s discovered she has a baby out of wedlock. Not to mention, she is married to a man who has gone off to sea. Hester Prynne hides the father’s identity to keep his reputation clean.

However, Reverend Dimmesdale (the secret father) guilt begins to build and build, and when Hester’s husband, taking the disguise of Robert Chillingworth comes back into the picture he begins to investigate the true identity of the father. As part of her repentance, she must wear a Scarlet Letter A, which stands for Adultery. Meanwhile, her daughter, Pearl is suspected to be the spawn of Satan by her own mother and by the town.

Nathaniel Hawthorne created a world filled with hypocrisy and symbols for many generations to decipher and discuss amongst themselves. Now, The Scarlet Letter is read by many high schools and respected colleges, so is it any wonder that you can find this story in pop culture and other medias? No! Here are some we spotted that you should definitely check out if haven’t.

Literature: Hester Book

Hester book cover-- inspired by The Scarlet Letter -- flowery book cover

Can you believe some writers still look to Hawthorne’s work as inspiration? Laurie Lico Albanese this time decides to bring more voice and reason to the character Hester Prynne.

Meet Isobel Gamble, a young seamstress who happens to be carrying generations of secrets. During the 1800’s she sets sail from Scotland with her husband, Edward after they fall into debt when he becomes addicted to opium. They go to Glasgow for a new beginning. After a few days, however, Edward leaves Isobel to fend for herself as he goes on a ship to become a medic. Isobel now must try to make money in an unknown country to her.

She then meets Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a romance begins in the works. He is a man haunted by his ancestors’ sins, as they sent young innocent women to death on the gallows. As time goes on, Nathaniel and Isobel begin to fall deeper and deeper in love as it appears her husband will not be returning.

In this alluring tale, we are met with a woman who must now understand the New World that is America and the ideas of freedom and liberty. Albanese wishes to show the female perspective along with their creative power and the boxes men put them in. Would Hawthorne have fallen for an Isobel as a great muse for The Scarlet Letter?

Film/TV: Easy A and Game of Thrones

Easy A Movie Cover

In 2010, the movie Easy A came out in a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter. This time Olive (Emma Stone), our modern-day Hester Prynne is the one to lie about losing her virginity. When the popular mean girl (Amanda Bynes) overhears about the good shoes getting laid, she spreads the word across campus. Now Olive is ‘popular’ for the wrong reasons. Similar to the town of The Scarlet Letter, nothing is ever kept secret in high school.

Cersei walking during her atonement -- Game of thrones

In Season 5 of Game of Thrones in the episode entitled Mother’s Mercy, Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady) must do her walk of shame aka walk of atonement (see the a in atonement!) to a mobbed crowd as they share their dismay of her sins in adultery. She admits her sins of sleeping with her cousin out of wedlock, and the people of King’s Landing let her have it. Instead of simply wearing a scarlet letter, she must endure the physical pain of a long walk and the horrible mistreatment from the city.

It’s not hard to miss this connection. Two women getting punished for having premarital sex. One must wear a Letter and one must wear nothing. Both are extreme punishments, but personally, for me, I would have taken the letter any day.

Music: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is known for her flowery musical lyrics and upbeat songs. In a couple of her earlier songs, she mentions The Scarlet Letter stealthily.

Here are two songs where she mentions The Scarlet Letter!

‘Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter
And my daddy said, “Stay away from Juliet”

Love Story, Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift on her cover for New Romantics

We’re all bored
We’re all so tired of everything
We wait for trains that just aren’t coming
We show off our different scarlet letters
Trust me, mine is better

New Romantics, Taylor Swift

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writings continue to leak into the 21st century. Is it truly a surprise? Definitely not considering how many people still read the tale of repenting sins.

For more literature pop culture references, click here!