Modern Day Scarlet Letter Examples & Connections

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  • 0:03 Why Connections Are Important
  • 0:54 Punishments
  • 2:00 Social Media
  • 2:47 Talk Shows
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you are reading the novel 'The Scarlet Letter', you may be wondering about the significance of the novel's central symbol: the red letter A. In this lesson, we will take a look at few examples of how and why Hester Prynne's punishment pops up in modern times.

Why Connections Are Important

One of the best ways to understand a classic story is to find a way to connect it with modern times. In The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, a woman gets pregnant and has a child with someone other than her husband. Back in the times of the Puritans, this was a big no-no. The leaders of the community decided to punish her and send a warning to others by publicly shaming her and forcing her to wear a letter A cut from bright red fabric and sewn onto her clothing. Even though the story was written in 1850, there is still a similar desire for the kind of public shaming and justice that took place in the story. Nowadays, we probably won't find examples of people being forced to wear actual letters on their clothing, but there are other ways that people are publicly shamed for breaking laws or failing to meet social expectations.


If you've ever tuned into the news and seen a story about someone being forced to stand in the community and hold a sign that announces their crime, then you've seen a connection between The Scarlet Letter and modern day shaming. For example, if someone steals from a store, a judge could order the thief to stand in front of the store with a sign that reads ''I am a thief.'' This is similar to the letter that Hester Prynne is forced to wear because it publicly shames the criminal and uses the embarrassment as punishment.

In 2012, a woman drove on a sidewalk in order to go around a school bus that was loading children. The judge who presided over the case ordered the woman to hold a sign reading, ''Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.'' This example is similar to the judgment that passed on Prynne for appearing to make a bad decision.

Some websites publish the names and faces of people who have broken the law and make public shaming part of their punishment. While the idea may be to make the public aware of dangerous criminals, it also may encourage others to think more carefully about their actions before they break the law and are publicly shamed.

Social Media

Another example of ways in which The Scarlet Letter plays out in modern day times is through public shaming on social media. The Scarlet Letter portrays a woman who refused to conform when it came to the issue of her sexuality. In many ways, it can be considered a feminist story. She was shamed and attacked for being sexual outside the norms of the culture she lived in. We see similar reactions even today. When women dress in a way that is seen as provocative, or even when women with differing body types show confidence in their sexuality, it's common to see public insults through social media posts and comments. This is similar to The Scarlet Letter because Hester is not supposed to be sexual outside of marriage to her husband. She was publicly insulted and shamed just as women today are.

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