Stranger Than Fiction

In “When She Woke,” Hillary Jordan crafts an updated version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” The novel is set in the dystopian United States, where:

  1. Roe v Wade has been overturned by the Supreme Court. Women who live in states where abortion is illegal are arrested for murder and convicted.
  2. The United States is now a fundamentalist Christian theocracy
  3. Convicted criminals have their skin tone altered based on the crime they committed, condemning them to ostracization and targeting even after their sentence is complete

Hannah, the novel’s protagonist, is a young woman with the misfortune of living in Texas, now a bastion of the new theocratic regime. After obtaining an illegal abortion, she is convicted, and her skin is altered to a deep crimson-the tone the regime reserves for those guilty of the worst offense, murder. In addition to serving time, she will spend the rest of her life marked with deep crimson skin, the color reserved for murderers.

Jordan’s book was published in 2011, and I read it in 2015. I thought it was a fresh take on the themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, a chilling glimpse into what America’s future might look like.

Hillary Jordan’s novel was prophetic. As of June 24th, 2022, one of the major plot points of “When She Woke” is now a reality, showing that life is indeed stranger than fiction.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

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