A Scarlet Letter: Textile as Protagonist

In tenth grade with Mrs. Obrien, we began to read A Scarlet Letter as part of our curriculum. Written by Nathanial Hawthorne, it has an American spin on the flowery writing of the mid-nineteenth century and there was revolt in the classroom. Due to utter lack of enthusiasm and a flat out refusal to read, we never finished the book. (We probably read The Pearl again, but I honestly don’t remember.)

It has taken 6 years for me to pick up what is advertised as a great work in American literature and I have to say, with that kind of lead up, it was a bit underwhelming. The storyline was a bit predictable, but generally it was a good, albeit tragic, tale of unrequited love (my favourite kind).

What did interest me, is that the main characters consisted of a woman, her former husband, her child, the child’s secret father and the scarlet letter. The description of this embroidery is carried throughout the novel and is a huge protagonist and carrier of the plot. The tactile and visual symbolism of the embroidered letter is a literary ploy to signal the emotions of Hester Prynne and her turmoil at the hands of her fellow villagers. The book hangs on this embroidered letter, a textile.


There were some obvious hiccups in the relaying of Hester Prynne- her dialogue taking on the awkwardness that only a man writing words for a woman who lived several hundred years previously could achieve and some fun self-indulgence in the language. However, I cannot think of (and implore you to inform me) of other novels that place textiles in such a prominent position.



Filed under Knitting, Uncategorized

2 responses to “A Scarlet Letter: Textile as Protagonist

  1. Okay, it’s not quite to the same extent, but was about Silas Marner?

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