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Vanessa Williams Compared to Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'the Scarlet Letter'

By JT1104 Mar 16, 2011 611 Words
Jay Tocco
Ms. Branca
1 March 2011
The Scarlet Letter - Scandal Project

Today’s society is cruel, and if one is something or does something they don’t approve of, they will ruin you. People are shunned, among other things, for their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, their income, and their education. One may also do something to have society shun them, whether they pesonally think it is right or wrong. Everyone has their own opinion and there is no greater power than the power of the people. Take Vanessa Williams for example, she was decrowned as Miss America for posing in Penthouse, a pornographic magazine. There were standards she had to meet and rules she had to follow, she broke them, and she was shunned.

Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America 1984 on September 17, 1983, becoming the first African American to ever win the beauty pageant. She automatically became the target of death threats and hate mail, most likely due to her race. Ten months after winning the pageant, Vanessa received an anonymous phone call informing her that pre-fame naked pictures had been leaked out into the public. She thought the pictures had been destroyed, and claims to have never signed for them to be released. This abomination broke pageant rules, and she resigned as Miss America,which was the right thing to do. The pageant stood for purity, wholesomeness, and everything that a respectable woman should be, and everything that these pictures weren’t.

The public and pageant-lovers were outraged when this was brought to their attention. She received massive amounts of undesirable attention for these pictures. They were offered to but turned down by Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy. Soon after, Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, publically announced that the September 1984 issue of his magazine would feature the pictures. He was sneaky and paid the photographer of the images for the rights to distribute them without Vanessa’s consent. Vanessa was distraught by this, she worked hard to get to where she was only to see it all come crashing down in front of her eyes. She won countless pageants just to even enter Miss America, and kept herself healthy and good looking to win the pageant. These haunting images came back and destroyed her dreams.

Vanessa Williams has a similar situation to that of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. She did something wrong that she wasn’t proud of that would haunt her for the rest of her life, as did Hester. Hester committed adultery due to money issues and her own emotions with her unsatisfying relationship. Her punishment was to wear a scarlet A around the town for the rest of her life, publically announcing her sin every time someone looked at her. This created enormous amounts of embarrassment for Hester. Vanessa Williams was also publically humiliated by the tabloids, paparazzi, word of mouth, and every form of media known to man at the time. Not only did this ruin her title of Miss America, it ruined her life forever.

In 1984, Vanessa Williams filed a $500 million lawsuit against her photographer and the publisher of Penthouse. Although she resigned from her title, she is still officially recognized by the Miss America Organization as “Miss America 1984”. She was also allowed to keep the crown and scholarship money. No matter how well things may have turned out for her, this experience would scar her for the rest of her life, as the scarlet A did for Hester. There truly is no power greater than the power of the people.

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