Analysis of Pearl in Hawthorne\'s "The Scarlet Letter"


One of the most significant writers of the romantic period in American
literature was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote stories that opposed the
ideas of Transcendentalism. Since he had ancestors of Puritan belief, Hawthorne
wrote many stories about Puritan New England. His most famous story is the
Scarlet Letter. This novel tells of the punishment of a woman, Hester Prynne,
who committed adultery and gave birth to Pearl. A minister of Boston, Arthur
Dimmesdale, had an affair with Hester while believing that her husband, Roger
Chillingworth, had died. However, Chillingworth did not die and appears during
the early stages of Hester\'s punishment.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the character of Pearl in the
Scarlet Letter. Her whole life had many difficulties while living in Puritan
New England. Furthermore, Pearl displays much parallelism to the scarlet letter
that Hester must wear. Finally, Pearl\'s birth intensified the conflicts in the
novel. Clearly, Pearl becomes the symbol of all the other major characters\'
tragedies.

Chronology

The character of Pearl in the Scarlet Letter lived a very difficult life.
Before the novel begins, Hester Prynne gives birth to Pearl after having an
affair with Arthur Dimmesdale, a Puritan minister. Pearl\'s birth proves that
Hester cheated on her husband Roger Chillingworth provoking the stories action.
The novel opens with the people of Boston staring and laughing at Hester holding
Pearl while standing on the town\'s scaffold. At this time, Pearl is three
months old. Years later Hester gets released from jail and lives with Pearl in
the outskirts of town. Since Hester becomes alienated from Boston, Pearl turns
into "her mother\'s only treasure!" (Hawthorne 76). Hester makes bright red
clothes for Pearl that parallel the scarlet "A." At age three, Pearl endures
many laughs and jokes from other Puritan children but chases them away with
stones. Since Pearl\'s birth resulted from broken rules, she does not feel the
obligation to follow rules. Although her life is an outcast of Puritan society,
Pearl\'s language shows a high level of intelligence. Later, Hester receives
word that the magistrates want to take Pearl away from her. Hester takes Pearl
to the governor\'s house where the child meets her father, Arthur Dimmesdale.
After Dimmesdale persuades the governors to allow Hester to keep Pearl, he gives
the child a kiss on the forehead. This kiss hints that Dimmesdale is Pearl\'s
father.
When Hester and Pearl return from Governor Winthrop\'s death bed, they join
Dimmesdale standing on the town\'s scaffold. Pearl asks Dimmesdale "Wilt thou
stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" (Hawthorne 131) twice.
Realizing that Arthur is her father, Pearl wants him to confess his sin so that
the three of them can live peacefully. Next, Hester takes Pearl for a walk in
the woods to meet Dimmesdale. While the two lovers talk and come up with plans
to leave for England, Pearl goes off and plays in the woods. After Hester and
Dimmesdale finish talking, Pearl returns and finds that her mother has removed
the scarlet letter. Pearl, who has grown attached to the "A," throws a temper
tantrum until Hester puts the letter back on her dress. Later, Dimmesdale
kisses Pearl, who then runs to a brook and washes off the kiss. Pearl does not
accept Dimmesdale as her father. At the end of the novel, Hester and Pearl go
to England, but Hester returns and dies in Boston. Hawthorne never tells
exactly what happened to Pearl. The people of Boston have many different ideas
about Pearl\'s fate. For example, some believe that she died or that she married
and received money from Chillingworth\'s will. The character of Pearl portrayed
a large role in the plot of the Scarlet Letter.


Significance

Nathaniel Hawthorne develops Pearl into the most obvious central symbol of
the novel, the scarlet letter. First, Pearl\'s birth resulted from the sin of
adultery, the meaning of the "A." Since she came from a broken rule, Pearl does
not feel that she has to follow rules. Hawthorne expresses that "The child could
not be made amendable to rules" (Hawthorne 91). Next, Pearl exhibits the same
characteristics as the scarlet letter. For example, the letter contains scarlet
fabric. Hester makes red clothes for Pearl to wear, making her an outcast of
Puritan society. Likewise, wearing the scarlet letter has made Hester an outcast
of society. Furthermore, Pearl grows just as Hester continues to enlarge the
letter by adding golden thread. During infancy, "The letter is the first
object that Pearl becomes aware of" (Baym 57). Throughout her life, Pearl
became very attached to the scarlet letter