Scarlet Sins. Prayer Meetings. God. Children. Love Charms. Hell. Heart-love. Eye-love. Forgiveness.
Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. This novel is especially noteworthy because it is the first Pulitzer Prize winner to have a main character who is African-American. The prize was awarded over the objections of some people who found the novel obscene because it dealt with the topic of sex outside of marriage.
Briefly, near the beginning of the book we meet Mary, who has been raised by her aunt and older cousin. She has a vision in which her sins are forgiven. She is baptized and accepted into the church, becoming Sister Mary. Unfortunately, she falls in love with July, a sinner. On the morning of her wedding day, her aunt notices that Mary is pregnant. Rather than having to wait for the birth of her child to be kicked out of church, she dances on her wedding night, resulting in her expulsion. Unex, for unexpected, is born seven months later. Soon, July leaves Mary for another woman. In order to get him back, Mary gets a love charm. While it does not help her with July, it does result in Mary having eight more children by various men. Eventually, she confronts her scarlet sins.
Mary comes across as a strong, hard working, good hearted woman. I think some people could consider the book somewhat racist. I don’t think that is what Peterkin intended. The book speaks to us about types of love. I cried when I read some of the last scenes in the book because I was so moved. I am glad the Pulitzer Prize committee chose this book.