The Scarlet Letter “D”: What Hester Prynne Can Teach Us about Divorce

In 1850, American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne published perhaps his most famous work of historical fiction, The Scarlet Letter. I’m willing to bet that the last time most people opened this book, they skimmed the story just enough to pass their high school English test. So to help those of you who forgot the story line, I’ll provide a brief summation. The narrative follows Hester Prynne, a young woman who has given birth to a baby of unknown parentage. Because she had her baby out of wedlock, the townspeople demand that she don a scarlet letter “A” on her chest as punishment for her alleged adulterous nature. This punishment embodies a harmful social stigmatization, which is present throughout the entire story. In turn, Hester and her secret lover attempt to navigate the public and personal shame and humiliation following their liaison. At the time of its publication, The Scarlet Letter highlighted the rigidity of the puritanical community, but for modern readers and many of our clients, it signals something slightly different.

Whether you are in the initial phases of filing for divorce or have been separated from your ex-spouse for months, Hester Prynne’s feelings of public humiliation might resonate with you on many levels. You might even feel as though you have been branded with a scarlet letter “D,” signifying your failed relationship to friends, family, and the community. But your letter is different than Hester’s because no one has literally sewn a red mark to your outfit; your letter is a figment of your imagination, stemming from fears swirling around inside your mind.

These fears will cause you to ask yourself questions: What does my divorce say about me? Am I a failure? Do people think I couldn’t keep my family together? Do they think I just gave up? Am I now just another statistic?

Because we have heard clients outwardly ponder these questions, we understand how difficult it can be to answer them from a logical standpoint or even to think about them at all. Many people will distract themselves with the more technical legal aspects of the divorce or focus on their resentment toward an ex-spouse rather than allow themselves to reflect on these frightening questions. But what a lot of our clients find is that once they are through the process, they realize that all of these fears were based on false thinking and that the people who love and care about them will support them throughout this transformation.

It’s likely some people will form negative opinions or pass judgment like the adversaries in Hester’s story, because unfortunately, the stigma surrounding divorce exists for a reason. Many people still value the notion of the prototypical “fairytale” romance, and they think that another couple’s divorce affects them in some way. But this approach is what my team and I strive to fight against. We are inspired when we see clients take control of their own happiness. In doing so, clients usually find that the people in their lives who truly matter will offer support and encouragement regardless of the situation. Many soon realize that they’ve spent a lot of their energy being unhappy, and they no longer want to surround themselves with people who prefer to relish in their misery rather than help them achieve contentment.

Sometimes the fear of the scarlet letter “D” can be more prominent than the fear of divorce itself. If you take time to work through the fears associated with this invisible symbol, you’ll find that you enjoy things you didn’t know you enjoyed, and you’ll discover a sense of courage you never knew you had. In doing so, you’ll exhibit the same fortitude demonstrated by Hester, and you’ll learn to put your own judgment before anyone else’s.

~ Sara Khaki, Founder & Owner, Atlanta Divorce Law Group

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