Reasons Why The Scarlet Letter Was Banned

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Many books have been banned in the United States, and for various reasons. Interestingly, one of the most-read books by high school students, ''The Scarlet Letter'' has also been the subject of this type of controversy. In this lesson, learn why.

Why Ban Books?

Before you get into the reasons why The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was banned, you should maybe learn a bit about why books are banned in the first place. Because you've no doubt heard of this type of controversial thing happening, whether you're for or against it.

When people try to get books banned, it's just another form of censorship, or trying to suppress materials some find offensive, usually on moral, religious, or political grounds. Books are banned because a vocal group (often parents, trying to get something banned from a school library or curriculum) finds that particular book offensive and immoral.

This has happened many a time throughout history, and it still goes on today. You wouldn't think it, but Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a book commonly read in high schools everywhere, has been the subject of controversy and a few attempts have been made to ban it here and there. But why?


You know the story of The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, the protagonist, has an affair with Rev. Dimmesdale and has his lovechild, Pearl. She's punished for her sin of adultery by being forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A' on her clothes. That's really nothing compared to what's on the nightly primetime lineup, but hey, it offends some people.

And that's no joke; some people have tried to get The Scarlet Letter banned from schools on moral grounds. Some have felt that Hawthorne is far too sympathetic toward his adulterous heroine. While the book was controversial upon its release in the 1850s (it was banned by the Russian Czar at the time) due to Hawthorne's portrayal of Hester as a whole person with desires and feelings, you might not expect people to take the same tack so these days. But as recently as 1961 and 1977, parents attempted to have this book removed from their children's curriculum because they felt it was offensive.

Hawthorne makes it a point to tell the story largely from a point of view that is close to Hester, allowing the reader to sympathize with her and understand her feelings; some groups worry that this is less-than-moral, and that Hester is not punished nearly enough for her sin.

Artist rendering of Hester Prynne
Hester Prynne


You may be thinking: 'Hang on. Why is this section titled 'Obscenity'? Groups have named this as a reason the book should not be read by high school students.

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