The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, includes a variety of symbolism, which plays a significant role in the book. The most significant symbol in The Scarlet Letter is Hester Prynne’s daughter, Pearl, whom Hester bore as a result of her sin of adultery. Hester “named the infant “Pearl” as being of great price, -purchased with all she had, -her mother’s only treasure! ”(Hawthorne 75) As a consequence for Hester’s sin, she is forced to wear the letter “A”, for adultery, on her chest for the rest of her life.

However, the scarlet letter is not the most severe consequence for her sin, Pearl gives Hester the most grief, “the scarlet letter in another form”. (Hawthorne 84) Yet, if it were not for Pearl, Hester would not have been able to survive the pure agony of life itself. Pearl is like the wild red rose outside the prison door, giving Hester hope that everything would turn out positive. Pearl is not just a mere token of sin, her purpose is much greater- she symbolizes the love affair of Hester and Dimmesdale, Hester’s passionate nature, she is a living daily punishment to Hester, and a living conscience for Dimmesdale.

Yet, Pearl is the one who saves Hester from death and Dimmesdale from eternal sorrow. She forces Hester to live on and kisses Dimmesdale to show her filial love. She both guides them and teaches them the true lessons of life. In the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, the infant Pearl represents the passionately love affair between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. The whole town recognizes the fact that Hester had committed adultery because her husband had not been seen for over two years, and Hester had just bore a child who was only a few months old.

When Hester walks to the scaffold, ready to pay for her crime, she realizes that the infant symbolizes her sin of adultery. She opposes the temptation to use the child to cover up the scarlet letter; “wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another. ”(Hawthorne 95) As the day progresses, the infant is “writhed in convulsions of pain, and was a forcible type in its little frame. ”(Hawthorne 111) In this, Pearl represents the agony and torture that Hester experiences during the day of her public confession and humiliation. As Pearl grows up, she develops a personality of an “elf-child” or “demon offspring”.

Pearl has a mixture of moods; she could be laughing uncontrollably one minute and then screaming the next. She has a brutal temper and can contain the “bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a childish bosom. ”(Hawthorne 130) This type of character in Pearl is symbolic for the emotion that accompanies Hester’s sin. Hester is angry and ashamed of what she did and can “…only account for the child’s character—and even then most vaguely and imperfectly—by recalling what she herself had been, during that momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her bodily frame from its material of earth.

The mother’s impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery luster, the black shadow, and the untempered light of the intervening substance. Above all, the warfare of Hester’s spirit, at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl. ” (Hawthorne 147) Pearl is a passive reminder of sin, and her actions, questions, and comments are an increasing torment to Hester.

The one thing that Pearl shows most fascination in is “the scarlet letter on Hester’s bosom! One day, as her mother stooped over the cradle, the infant’s eyes had been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the letter; and, putting up her little hand, she grasped at it, smiling not doubtfully, but with a decided gleam, that gave her face the look of a much older child. ”(Hawthorne 18) Pearl also throws flowers at the scarlet letter, “covering the mother’s breast with hurts for which she could find no balm in this world. Hawthorne 142)

To Pearl, the scarlet letter is an awesome and interesting thing. When Pearl grows older, she too expects to wear the letter “A” on her bosom, because it is a natural part of her life. Pearl severely hurts Hester when she proclaims, “I am only a child. It (the sunshine) will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet! ”(Hawthorne 145) Pearl adds to Hester’s pain and mimics Hester by placing a seaweed “A” on her own breast. Additionally, Pearl constantly questions the significance of the letter forcing Hester to deny the real meaning of the letter.

When Pearl questions the reason for wearing the letter “a”, Hester says that it is “for the sake of its gold thread. ” (Hawthorne 155) This answer does not satisfy Pearl so she contunially repeats the question. Pearl also continually demands to know where she came from, but refuses to believe that she has a Heavenly Father. After all of Hester’s pain, Pearl still continues to be a never-ending torture to her mother. When Hester finally gets enough courage to remove the letter from her body, Pearl becomes angry.

Pearl insists that Hester replace the item, back to their normal appearance. This is painful for Hester because it is not simply replacing the articles of clothing, but it restores Hester’s sin and grief with them. Pearl then kisses her mother and kisses the scarlet letter also, giving Hester all of the sorrows of the world. Just as Pearl gives her own mother boundless amounts of grief, Pearl makes Arthur Dimmesdale suffer for what he did, making her a living conscience for Dimmesdale.

Pearl also shows a special interest in Arthur Dimmesdale, which is odd because she never trusts anyone but her mother. When Pearl is an infant, she first sees Dimmesdale on the scaffold and she “directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with a half-plaintive murmur. ”(Hawthorne 33) Pearl’s actions make Dimmesdale realize that he is a horrible man and father because he denied his own daughter. Later in the forest, Pearl comments on the difference in Dimmesdale’s character away from the town and questions, “Doth he love us?

Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town? ”(Hawthorne 129) Such comments make Dimmesdale extremely miserable to where he regularly places his hand over his heart so that no one can see his letter “A” or his false symbol of a cross. Pearl is a constant reminder to Arthur of his terrible sin, which gives him such a guilty conscience that he eventually confesses his transgression to the whole town. In this novel, Pearl is a steady reminder to both Hester and Dimmesdale of their sin and she gives them both cause for great suffering.

Pearl teaches Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale many important lessons about life itself, and if it was not for Pearl, Hester could not have survived. Hester tells the witch, Mistress Hibbins, “Had they taken her away from me, I would willingly have gone with thee in the forest and signed my name in the Black Man’s book too, and that with mine own blood! ”(Hawthorne 162) Dimmesdale’s soul is also saved because of Pearl. Pearl makes Dimmesdale feel so horrible that his only option left is to confess. Once Arthur Dimmesdale confesses to the town his sin, “Pearl kissed his lips.

A spell was broken. The great scene of grief in which the wild infant bore her father’s cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled. ” (Hawthorne 180) Throughout the book, pearl is described as a devil child, an imp, but when Dimmesdale confesses, all emotions run out of Pearl, her immortal character changes and she turns into a real human being with feelings, all that Hester wants for her child.

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