Critique: When She Woke

Last month I read When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. I haven’t had much time to read but my dad came down with food poisoning, and all my plans were canceled to babysit him. So I finished it. FYI: I love binge reading like couch potatoes love binge watching Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. It was a thought provoking and wonderful read!

SPOILER ALERT This is not so much a review, as a short critique and analysis of its themes.  If you’re debating on wether to read it, just do, I highly recommend it. But don’t read any further if you haven’t finished the novel and want to keep it a mystery!

When She Woke was a modern take on Nathaniel Hawthorns classic The Scarlet Letter, with a dystopian futuristic twist. I thought the idea of punishing people by public shaming of coloration was an amazing idea and comment on society.

I have always known that I have a strong personality. I related something something Hannah too, cheering for her, waiting for her to bloom into her own individuality. Her whole life she was put into stereotypes, boxes she called them. Through the novel she is forced into situations that she must make her own decisions. She learns that she doesn’t want to be who society says she should be, she learns personal individualism by asking why, expressing herself as a seamstress, reading books, and exploring her own feelings, sexuality and desires. She makes her own path, not for god, her family, society or anyone else, but herself.

The book explores a variety of prejudices through the coloring of criminals. It reaches the point of racial profiling, when the convicts are judged solely by their color, and not of their crime, much less their personality. The Fist is a reincarnate of the KKK, carrying out hate crimes on people who have already served their punishment for their crimes. But with these horrible people comes the idea of saving those victims, and that’s where the Novemberists come in, as a sort of underground railroad. In every instance of unjust there will always been a counter balance of individuals who believe in the right thing. Unfortunately there is also people willing to take advantage of that charity. Like most of us, Hannah must learn to navigate those pitfalls and trust her friends, because it was the only way to get through.

The idea of innocence and guilt are strong themes within the novel. Kayla, who admits to being guilty of her crime, comes to terms and learns to live with herself. She portrays her red skin with elegance, as if it were not as important as her true personality and beauty, or maybe even adds to it. She embraces being herself, and people find that attractive. Hannah starts the novel only seeing herself as red, and truly beating herself up over her guilt. But as she experiences more of the world outside her strict religious circles, she too comes to terms with being red. Realizing that maybe its not murder to save your life or the people’s around you by exercising your right to choose an abortion. She find this enlightenment in steps such as, reading, dressmaking, rebelling against the women’s center, letting her family move on without her, and eventually feeling pretty and desirable again.

Aiden on the other hand, never admits his guilt. He lives a cursed life, that he can never make up for, no matter the amount of good he does. His wife will know, if she doesn’t already. They are stuck together, seemingly happy, but with no means to actually atone, or move on from his affair with Hannah. It bothers him so much that he suffers a heart attack. But death would be an escape. Aiden will be left to serve a completely different punishment than Hannah, alone except for his unloving wife. I feel like this shows the great flaw in religion. How pure could an organization be, if its true leaders and believes can’t even follow the rules. These rules don’t help anyone, they are outdated, stemming from past circumstances that shaped the initial beliefs. Religion cannot be based on circumstance. I think my favorite theme from the novel was that its ok to walk away from something you don’t believe in, even a religion, in order to find yourself and do what is best for you.


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