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Common Themes in The Scarlet Letter and Erin Brokovich

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The Scarlet Letter is a novel written in the seventeenth century while Erin Brockovich is an American movie produced in the twentieth century.Although they are produced and written in different eras, both of them discussed the life of the oppressed female. The movie is a reflection of a true story which is about a woman named Erin who had established an organization after her success in taking down one of the largest water companies in the United States. She has devoted her life to fight for people affected by the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals used in water. On the other hand, the Scarlet Letter is a novel that tells the story of a woman who had been a victim of the Puritan strictness and how her adultery behavior was a sin that deserved to be punished for. In this essay, we are going to explore the common themes between the Scarlet Letter and Erin Brockovich; especially through examining the feminine characters which are Hester Prynne and Erin Brockovich.

The first common theme is suffering. Both of Erin and Hester had experienced suffering in much of their lives. For instance, Hester’s life was full of troubles since she got pregnant from her lover Dimmesdale. At that time, the Puritan society considered her less than everyone because she had committed adultery. Therefore, they decided to punish her in front of all the people of Massachusetts colony in order to be a living lesson for any woman who even thinks of having illegitimate sexual relationship. The beadle said: “Make way, good people, make way, in the King’s name,” cried he. “Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine! Come along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market-place!” chapter one. The extract shows that Hester was humiliated and abused publicly. She was the subject of people’s talk at that period of time. Later, Hester felt terrible the moment she was on the scaffold seeing the gloomy crowd staring at her in a serious mood. She wished that she could scream out at the crowd and leap off the place: “But, under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once.” Chapter two. Another situation that explains Hester’s worries and suffering is when she had learned that some people are discussing the idea of taking away her daughter. Therefore, Hester paid a visit to the governor’s house to check out those rumors. The news turned to be accurate, but Hester succeed in convincing the gentlemen to leave Pearl with her; “Hester, at this time, to seek an interview with a personage of so much power and activity in the affairs of the settlement. It had reached her ears, that there was a design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants, cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion and government, to deprive her of her child” Chapter seven. This extract reveals Hester’s concerns about her only daughter. She is afraid that the governor might take her pearl away. For Hester, Pearl is the only one left for her in this cruel society and it is impossible to give up her precious Pearl.

On the other hand, Erin also had some suffering. Firstly, she is a mother of three and she is twice divorced. Erin had to take care of her children alone. In many scenes of the movie, we can notice Erin struggling to get and keep a job. The journey of her suffering started since she was left alone with her children with no financial support. Then, she was hit by a car in an accident and she could not even get finical compensation. Although her neck was injured, she had to carry on her responsibilities as a mother. Another example of suffering in the movie is when Erin was in need of money and she had to go to different companies asking for a vacancy. She could not afford paying for her children’s meals at the restaurant. At one scene, she took her children out for lunch, but she did not order food for her. Instead, she went home eating canned food. In addition, Erin has devoted most of her time for work and getting money and at one scene she feels sad because her little daughter said her first word. It was “ball” instead of uttering “mama”. This shows how much suffering Erin’s life was. She was the father and the mother at the same time. Being away from her children caused a bitter suffering for her. However, she could not abandon or give up her job and return to what she was earlier.

The second common theme in The Scarlet Letter and Erin Brockovich is the will to help others. We can find this theme represented in characters of Erin and Hester, though they both have nothing to give for poor people or those who need help, but they tried their best. From the two stories we can realize that both Hester and Erin who were single mothers had suffered from their communities; they did not have husbands to support them or a job from which they can gain money to feed their children and no one tried to help them. And that is why as soon the found work they helped others and even when they did this they were judged by people according to their outer appearance. But when people realized that they were like them and they were honest, they believed them and loved them. The quotations and scenes below will show how they help others.

In The Scarlet Letter, In chapter V when Hester started her needlework and gained money. She only took what she needs and can live with, and give the rest for those who need it more than her. Also, sometimes she makes pieces of clothing for the poor people. Even if the writer consider it a way at one her sin but it shows the opposite in chapter XIII.

“Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently insulted the hand that fed them. Much of the time, which she might readily have applied to the better efforts of her art, she employed in making coarse garments for the poor.’ 

In another chapter which is XIII Hester was seen by the people of her town so peaceful because she was helping the poor people, and was the first person who goes to help those who were put in quarantine. She was not expecting anything from them. She just wanted to help them because she feels much pleasure in doing it.

‘It was perceived, too, that while Hester never put forward even the humblest title to share in the world’s privileges – further than to breathe the common air and earn daily bread for little Pearl and herself by the faithful labour of her hands – she was quick to acknowledge her sisterhood with the race of man whenever benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty, even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch’s robe. None so self-devoted as Hester when pestilence stalked through the town. In all seasons of calamity, indeed, whether general or of individuals, the outcast of society at once found her place.’ 

In the movie of Erin Brockovich, Erin was also helping others. When she got a job at a small law firm and discovered a curious case, and start investigating, she found out that all the illnesses of the community of Hinkley were the result of the Pacific Gas and Electric company lying to the community about the safety of their drinking water. And so she decided to help them take their rights. Because she was honest, people have trusted her and authorize her to get their rights back. Erin devoted her time and all her moments with her children to work in this case and help those people, she felt their pain, suffering and their fear about their children because she was a mother and she did her best to help them. The best example that illustrates Erin’s determining will to help other is when the lawyers said that this case is a losing one because they do not have enough documents to prove that the PG&E had manipulated upon the people of Hinckley. Erin fought for them and risked her safety to get those documents in order to win the case and get financial aids for the sick families.

The third theme is overcoming obstacles. All people are faced with some obstacles and problems in life and so are Hester Prynne and Erin Brockovich. We can note that in The Scarlet Letter and Erin Brockovich. Firstly in The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne faced many obstacles, but she does not make those obstacles constrain her form continuing her life. One of those obstacles is when she got out from Prison, Hester was free to go anywhere in the world and start a new life with her daughter, but she preferred to live in cottage on the outskirts of town and also she ignores the speech of the people about her and what she has done. She works in Needlework. Her work is in a great demand for clothing worn at official ceremonies and among the fashionable women of the town for every occasion except a wedding. We can see that in the following quotation:

‘Lonely as was Hester’s situation, and without a friend on earth who dared to show himself, she, however, incurred no risk of want. She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that afforded comparatively little scope for its exercise, to supply food for her thriving infant and herself. It was the art, then, as now, almost the only one within a woman’s grasp – of needle-work. She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill, of which the dames of a court might gladly have availed themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk and gold’ chapter. Also, when they decided to take Pearl from her because she will not learns her good morals and to be like the other girls in the town, she went to the governor’s house to prevent them from take her daughter and thus she succeeded in overcoming this problem ; ‘ God gave me the child!’ cried she. ‘He gave her in requital of all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness – she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first!’. ‘God gave her into my keeping!’ repeated Hester Prynne, raising her voice almost to a shriek will not give her up!’ And here by a sudden impulse, she turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale, at whom, up to this moment, she had seemed hardly so much as once to direct her eyes. ‘Speak thou for me!’ cried she. ‘Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest – for thou hast sympathies which these men lack – thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’s rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it … There is truth in what she says,’ began the minister, with a voice sweet, tremulous, but powerful, insomuch that the hall re-echoed and the hollow armour rang with it – ‘truth in what Hester says, and in the feeling which inspires her! God gave her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements – both seemingly so peculiar – which no other mortal being can possess. And, moreover, is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother and this child’ Chapter eight. Those quotations explain what Hester said to them, that Pearl is her happiness and her punishment. She talked to Dimmesdale because she knows that he will help her, and he induced them to let Pearl live with her mother. The last thing is when Hester wants to tell and Warn Mr.Dimmesdale about the character of Roger Chillingworth that he wants to take revenge from him. Later, she hears that he will go to visit Apostle Eliot and she finds that a good chance to warn him. As Dimmesdale walks in the wilderness, returning from a visit with Apostle Eliot, he hears Hester’s voice and is surprised by her presence. They sit together and talk, then Hester tells Mr. Dimmesdale about the enemy that he lives with him at the same house and what his hidden intentions are. We can notice that in following quotations:

‘Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for,’ said she, ‘with whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast in me, the partner of it!’ Again she hesitated, but brought out the words with an effort ‘Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him, under the same roof … Ha! What sayest thou?’ cried he. ‘An enemy! And undermine own roof! What mean you?…Oh, Arthur!’ cried she, ‘forgive me! In all things else, I have striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have held fast, and did hold fast, through all extremity; save when thy good – thy life – thy fame – were put in question! Then I consented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even though death threaten on the other side! Dost thou not see what I would say? That old man! – the physician! – he whom they call Roger Chillingworth! – he was my husband ‘ Chapter seventeen.

Secondly, in Erin Brockovich, Erin does not only show her personal struggles that allowed this vast achievement, but also the social obstacles which she was forced to overcome. She faced many obstacles like when Mr.Masry fired her because he thinks that she does not work and she only has fun for she has been gone for a week. She feels sad, but she started looking for another job. Then, Mr.Masry comes to her with interesting news from Dr.Frankel, from UCLA, so she returns back to her work. Another thing which Erin faced is when someone called her and warned her.he said ‘ you should watch your step, a young lady with three young children really should think again’. However, Erin ignores that call and she continues her job searching about the truth. Also, when Pamela refuses to meet her and she does not like to talk with her. But she changes her opinion when Erin came another day with her children and talked with her giving her the information she needs. Another thing is when they said that there is no appeal. Erin was thinking about the people that they will not agree ‘ The judges’ decision is final, there is no appeal ‘, so they send another lawyer to continue the case because they think that Erin’s does not have the ability to do well, but the people do not like the lawyer and Pamela told them to choose another lawyer. At the end, Erin Proves the opposite, she works hard, gets the signatures from all the people and wins the case getting two millions dollars.

In conclusion, it is seen there are three main themes common for both Erin Brockovich and The Scarlet Letter. These are the themes of suffering, helping others and overcoming obstacles.


  • Kestler, Justin. ‘The Scarlet Letter Chapter 10.’ LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 22 Jul 2013. Web. 27 Feb 2017. 

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