Embroidering the Scarlet A: Unwed Mothers and Illegitimate Children in American Fiction and Film

Embroidering the Scarlet A discusses an array of narratives that span the American literary tradition, tracing the evolution of the fallen woman from the earliest novels to recent representations in fiction and film, including The Scarlet Letter, The Sound and the Fury, The Color Purple, and Love Medicine, and the films Juno and Mother and Child. Interweaving her own experience as a pregnant teen forced to surrender her daughter and pledge secrecy for decades, Ellerby interrogates out-of-wedlock motherhood, mapping the ways archetypal scarlet women and their illegitimate children have been exiled as social pariahs, pardoned as blameless pawns, and transformed into empowered women. Drawing on narrative, feminist, and autobiographical theory, the book examines the ways that the texts have affirmed, subverted, or challenged dominant thinking and the prevailing moral standards as they have shifted over time. Using her own life experience and her uniquely informed perspective, Ellerby assesses the effect these stories have on the lives of real women and children. By inhabiting the space whereideology meets narrative, Ellerby questions the constricting historical, cultural, and social parameters of female sexuality and permissible maternity. This book will interest those concerned with the novel as a genre, and in particular, representations of women and children. As a feminist cultural critique, a moving autobiographical journey, and an historical investigation that addresses both fiction and film, the book will appeal to students and scholars of literature, history, sociology, psychology, women's and gender studies, and film studies. It will also appeal to those concerned with adoption or the cultural shifts that have changed our thinking about illegitimacy.