Easy A is not the first teen comedy based on classic literature. Clueless was a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You was based on Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, and Cruel Intentions was a contemporary take on Dangerous Liaisons.
However, Easy A is one of the first films to adapt a classic American novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The heroine of the novel, Hester Prynne, is found guilty of adultery (she even has a child out of wedlock with her lover-scandalous!), and her punishment is to wear a red letter “A” (for adulterer) on herself at all times. The novel examines the nature of judgment, punishment, and ultimately, redemption.
Based on that brief Scarlet Letter summary, Hawthorne’s classic novel might seem like an odd choice for a teen movie. Very few high school aged people are married; how is possible for them to commit adultery? This is where the film takes some serious creative license. The movie’s protagonist, Olive Pendergast (played to perfection by Emma Stone), lies to her friend about having a date with an older guy to avoid joining her friend’s family on a camping trip. One lie leads to another, and before she knows it, Olive’s friend is telling everyone at their school that Olive has lost her virginity.
This new piece of information makes Olive a much more interesting social commodity at her high school, and though she doesn’t appreciate getting attention based on a lie, she does enjoy the attention itself. But the attention she receives soon proves to be a double-edged sword; Olive quickly falls victim to that old virgin/whore cliché, and since her schoolmates believe that she’s no longer a virgin, it’s obvious what her new role must be. Before she knows it, the lies build upon themselves until people at Olive’s school believe that she is an actual teenage prostitute.
Instead of standing up and telling the truth about what actually happened (or didn’t happen) with her fictitious date, Olive, who is coincidentally reading The Scarlet Letter in her English class (how convenient), decides to take a cue from Nathaniel Hawthorne and sew a red letter “A” onto all of her clothing, a show of solidarity with the martyred Hester Prynne and a sly jab at all of her classmates, who are meant to represent the judgmental and cruel Scarlet Letter characters.
The Scarlet Letter ends with Hester Prynne dying; a fate that no moviegoer wants to see befall a pretty high school girl, so while Hester leads a humble life of charitable deeds, Olive achieves redemption by telling the truth about herself to her entire school on a live webcast. In fact, the entire movie is told in retrospect as part of Olive’s confession. Though it seems that everyone in her school (and town) is watching her webcast and that her reputation is restored, the truly wonderful thing about Olive is that, by that time, she no longer cares what they think.