Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter is based on the puritanical custom of affixing a giant red, letter "A" to anybody that committed adultery. The novel centers on the adulterous Puritan Hester Prynne. Throughout the novel, she loyally refuses to reveal the name of her partner. The novel is generally regarded as Hawthorne's masterpiece and as one of the classics of American literature. However, it also reflects the typical, partriarchical attitude of both puritan society and of contemporary society. For instance, even the definition of the word, "Scarlet" carries with it sexist connotations. Scarlet as defined in Webster's New World Dictionary is "sinful, specifically whorish" (Webster 532). .
In sum, the main plot of the novel is this: Hester Prynne is a women living in seventeenth-century New England. She is convicted of committing adultery. At the beginning of the novel, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter, A, on her dress as a sign of her guilt. She steadfastly refuses to reveal the identity of her adulterous partner. However, her husband eventually realizes who her lover is and takes revenge on him. Eventually, her dying lover publicly admits his part in the adultery. Primarily the novel centers on the theme of woman as seductress, woman as seducer. Again, this theme seems to harken back to the same stereotypical and sexist notions of woman as either Madonna or whore. Regardless of the fact that her lover ultimately is punished for his sins as well, it is Hester who is portrayed as the one to blame for his "fall." .
In the novel, the public confession of her lover, Dimmesdale, the "sinful" priest seems to absolve him of his sins by making such a public confession. The same is not true for Hester. She is doomed at the end of the book to live a life full of loneliness and denial, and in no way does she come close to obtaining the freedom and love that she had desired.