When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, is a provocative novel set in a near, yet dystopian, future where the lines between church and state have dissolved, leaving the US to be run by a theocracy. An homage to Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, the protagonist Hannah Payne has her skin dyed red as punishment for her abortion, and the novel follows her as she deals with the repercussions of her punishment. In some ways, the parallels between the books are almost too obvious; Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne becomes Hannah Payne, his Arthur Dimmesdale become Aidan Dale, and Hannah even says she would have named her daughter Pearl had she not aborted her. Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest, and Hannah has her skin “melachromed” red as a form of punishment and crime deterrent in this dystopian United States. Despite these obvious similarities between the works, Hannah is a very different woman from Hester. Hester is the stronger woman, taking full ownership of her punishment and refusing to return to England despite the harassment she faced, as opposed to Hannah who, though she does refuse to name the father of her child, tries to escape her punishment by travelling to Canada to have the melachroming reversed. She does this with the help of a secret organization who smuggles melachromed women across the country in an Underground-Railroad like journey to get to Canada; their codeword? It’s personal. Nevertheless, I found the novel incredibly thought provoking as it transfers the themes in Scarlet Letter to an issue hotly debated in our country today, abortion. It warns of the danger of the rising power of religion in the far right-wing conservatives, as Christianity becomes practically a requirement for Republican presidential candidates. When She Woke is meant to make the reader think about the world we live in today and the world we want to wake up in tomorrow.
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