That was the idea evoked by Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, this morning on an earnings conference call with reporters, when he discussed the Troubled Asset Relief Program funds his bank received, saying, "Folks, it has become a scarlet letter."
That wasn't the only literary reference Dimon went for in describing the money, also referring to at as the "Tarp baby," a play off Uncle Remus' Tar baby.
Dimon repeated plans to pay back the $25 billion in government money as soon as possible, saying he would do so once the government gave approval.
"We'd like to pay it back as soon as prudent," he said. "We can pay it back tomorrow - we have the money... Obviously, we're waiting for guidance from the government."
He also said the bank had no plans to participate in the government's toxic asset purchase plan, as either a buyer or seller. While he said the plan may help the system in general, it is "basically irrelevant to JPMorgan Chase."
"We manage and control our own assets," he said. "If we want to sell them, we'll sell them. If we want to buy them, we'll buy them."
It's worth noting that of the two analogies Dimon used on the call, the Tarp baby may be the more apt. In the Uncle Remus story, the more Brer Rabbit tries to interact with the Tar baby, the more trapped he becomes. Similarly, Dimon said he got involved with Tarp because he thought it was in the best interests of the country - and now his company is essentially stuck.
Hester Prynne's Scarlet A (for adultery) in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel was, by contrast, meant as a punishment so that the public would shun her. Wait, maybe that's not such a bad analogy after all.