Literary Mixtape: Hester Prynne


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dubious heroine, Hester Prynne.

It’s hard to be a lady in a Puritan village. When Hester believes that her husband is dead, she has an affair with another man, and bears a child, Pearl. Because she has no husband, she is shunned by the townspeople and forced to wear the famous scarlet ‘A’ on her chest at all times. While she accepts her punishment gracefully and continues to be a quiet, humble member of society, Hester is a complicated mix of the sexually liberated and the societally tethered – her character is the place where the sinful and the holy meet. Accordingly, we think she’d listen to strong female-type music and sad, remorseful tracks in equal measure, with some sexy jams in there too. Because hey, as even the scowling mobs secretly know, even Puritain ladies feel the urge sometimes.


“Alphabet Town” — Elliott Smith

Though Hester lived in Boston, not Alphabet City, she would still relate to this gently mournful song of being lost in a city haunted by actions done and not done.

“Trouble is a Friend” — Lenka

If there’s anything that’s constant in life, Hester Prynne knows it’s trouble, and “no matter what I feed him / He always seems to grow…”

“Toxic (ft. Tiggers & Ol’ Dirty Bastard)” — Mark Ronson

It may not be the man that ends up wearing the warning (although literary theory suggests that Dimmesdale does in fact have his own ‘A’ seared into his flesh), but we can imagine Hester getting ready for her tryst with the pastor by listening to this sexified song.

“Rolling in the Deep” — Adele

For when Hester wants to remind herself that she’s powerful in her own right, and that it’s the fire in her heart that will see her through.

“I Know” — Fiona Apple

What sad girl doesn’t consume Fiona Apple like she’s the only thing good left on this earth? No sad girl, that’s who.

“One Dove” — Antony and the Johnsons

There’s no one like Antony Hegarty to perfectly create the sound of despair in a single lilting phrase.

“Autumn’s Child” — Devendra Banhart

Because Hester knows her daughter is what she has to live for, and be pious for, whether she is the physical embodiment of her shame or no.

“Shame” — The Avett Brothers

Pretty obvious, perhaps, but sometimes the best songs to have a good cry to are just that.

“Howlin’ For You” — The Black Keys

This kind of thing is probably why Chillingworth admitted that he was too old and cold for a hot young firecracker like Hester.

“Accidentally Like A Martyr” — Warren Zevon

The perfect song for accepting your lot, unfair as it may be. “Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly / For what was already mine.”