A Character Analysis Of The Many Facets Of Pearl In The Scarlett Letter

A Character Analysis of the Many Facets of Pearl

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a book of much symbolism. One of the most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book is Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Throughout the novel Pearl develops into a dynamic symbol; one that is always changing. In the following essay, I will explore Hawthorne's symbolism of Pearl from birth, age three, and age seven. Also, I will attempt to disprove the notion that Pearl is branded with a metaphorical scarlet letter "A" representing amorality; instead she represents the immorality of her mother's adultery.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, for her sins, received a scarlet letter "A" which she had to wear upon the "breast of her gown"(Hawthorne 39). It was the Puritan way of treating her as a criminal for the crime of adultery. The Puritan treatment of Hester did not stop simply with the assignment of the letter. As she walked through the streets, she was looked down upon as if she were some sort of evil spirit among them, being punished for some ghastly crime. This gave Hester much mental anguish and grief. On the other hand, God's treatment of Hester for her sin was quite different than the scarlet letter. He gave Hester the punishment of rearing a very unique child whom she named Pearl. "But she named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price, --purchased with all she had, --her mother's only treasure!"(Hawthorne, 62). Hester named her daughter Pearl because she had to give up everything, including freedom, for her. This punishment handed down from God was a constant mental and physical reminder to Hester of what she had done wrong. There was no escaping it. In this aspect, Pearl symbolized God's way of punishing Hester for the sin of adultery.
Even when she was just a baby, "her infant's eyes had been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the letter" (Hawthorne 67). From birth, Pearl seemed to be attracted to the scarlet letter "A" that clung to her mother's chest. In one specific incident when Pearl was a baby she reached up smiling to touch the scarlet letter on Hester's dress as she stooped over her cradle. This gesture by the baby mortified Hester because of Pearl's innocent recognition of the underlying meaning of the letter on her chest. It seemed as if Pearl unknowingly antagonized her mother by constantly reminding her of the "fatal token" (Hawthorne 67). "From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's safety; not a moment's calm enjoyment of her" (Hawthorne 67). Hester realized that she could not enjoy the normal maternal relationship with her daughter because of the embarrassing symbol on her chest. Hawthorne states, "Weeks, it is true, would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter; but then, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, and odd expression of the eyes" (67). Hester recognized that Pearl's odd expression was her own recognition of the immoral meaning of the scarlet letter and Pearl herself.
At age three, Pearl still possessed the same childish fascination with her mother's decorative symbol of shame. Hawthorne told of one certain incident were "... she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother's bosom; dancing up and down, like a little elf, whenever she hit the scarlet letter." (67). Pearl, through the use of the letter, toyed with her mother's emotions as if it were a game placed there for her own personal amusement. Hester still bore witness to "little Pearl's wild eyes"; the same expression that she had seen before in her eyes as a baby (Hawthorne 67). Hester could tell that with every day that passed her little girl was becoming more and more aware of the scarlet letter and its immoral meaning. Pearl was now old enough to ask questions about her identity. When Pearl questioned her mother as to where she came from, Hester vaguely answered, "Thy Heavenly Father sent