Children are, by nature, incredibly sensitive creatures. They can sense almost any emotion an adult might feel just by observing a particular person’s body language and facial expressions. Such is the case with the youthful Pearl from the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As the daughter of the adulteress Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, the townspeople view Pearl as a demon in an angel’s clothing; as an imp who not only knows exactly what the letter A signifies on the breast of her mother but as the demon who placed it there as well.
‘Nay, Mother, I have told all I know,’ said Pearl more seriously than she was wont to speak…’ But in good earnest now, Mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean? -and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom? -and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?’ She took her mother’s hand in both her own and gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and capricious character This dialogue does not seem to be the words of a demon, but a child who is utterly curious about what the letter on her mother’s bosom means. One must not underestimate Pearl’s intelligence though. In fact, Pearl is not the demon many consider her to be; instead, she is intelligent and sensitive towards her surroundings and can thus understand much about the scarlet letter her mother wears. The neighboring townspeople.
Had given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring; such as, ever since old Catholic times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the agency of their mother’s sin, and to promote some foul and wicked purpose. From this statement and many others similar to it throughout the novel, many readers are given the impression that Pearl is a possessed child. Before any type of statement can be made on Pearl’s intelligence or sensitivity, it is imperative for one to understand these references are an attempt on Hawthorne’s part to display to the reader a fragment of Puritanical Society.
By no means is Pearl an imp. She is a curious child and until one separates Hawthorne’s fictitious references to Pearl’s demonic soul and Pearl’s true intelligent nature, a character analysis of Pearl’s identity cannot be created. Pearl is a living Scarlet A to Hester, as well as the reader, acting as a constant reminder of Hester’s sin They also believe Pearl uses this information against Hester by constantly mentioning the letter in order to make Hester extremely uncomfortable. Pearl, throughout the story, develops into a dynamic individual, as well as an extremely important symbol – one who is constantly changing.
Pearl is involved in a complex history, and as a result, is viewed as different and is shunned because of her mother’s sin. Pearl is a living Scarlet A to Hester, as well as the reader, acting as a constant reminder of Hester’s sin. Pearl is the living embodiment of the scarlet letter because she forces Hester and Dimmesdale to accept their sins. The Puritan society looks at Pearl as a child of the devil, and a black-hearted girl because she is the result of sin. Hester and Dimmesdale are both in the same situation in Pearl’s eyes.
Pearl wants Hester to realize that she is not the worst person in the world before she removes the scarlet letter. Pearl wants Dimmesdale to accept his sin, and be part of their life publicly. With the rumor of Pearl’s impish nature dispelled, one can now study her inquisitive and sensitive nature. When Hester Prynne refuses to reveal to Pearl the identity of the young child’s father, Pearl’s burning curiosity quickly ignites and forces her to scream out the following demand. Tell me! Tell me! It is thou that must tell me! This is not the only time Pearl’s curiosity sparked throughout the novel.
In fact, there are many times when Pearl becomes inquisitive over one mystery or another; this next example is one of them. Why, what is this, Mother?… Wherefore have all the people left their work today? Is it a playday for the whole world? In this situation, Pearl is overwhelmed by curiosity, as the entire population of Boston is decked in their finery for a reason that Pearl is not aware of. Instead of keeping silent, as a behaved Puritan child would, Pearl spills out question after question in hopes of understanding something that is an enigma to her. While Pearl’s natural curiosity drives her on the quest of discovering the truth behind the scarlet letter, it is her sensitive and intelligent nature that answers a few of the questions associated with the mystery.
An example of this sensitive nature occurs after the custody battle in which Hester fights for the right to remain as the guardian of Pearl. Pearl…stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid cheek against it. This seems to be Pearl’s act of gratitude towards the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. One might wonder why the short-tempered child would behave in such a sweet way toward Dimmesdale. Perhaps she notes her mother’s frantic voice and posture as Hester pleads with the men whose wish it is to take Pearl away and give her a proper Christian upbringing. Pearl might also notice Dimmesdale’s request that the child remains with her mother, and then the softening of Hester’s face as her crisis ends. Without hearing a single word uttered, Pearl can easily see how Dimmesdale saves both her and her mother from a situation neither would enjoy. Thus, the loving gesture Pearl makes towards Dimmesdale is her silent way of saying, Thank you for the gift of youth you have just given me.
Using Pearl’s characteristics of curiosity and sensitivity, one can make assumptions about whether or not Pearl understands what the scarlet letter symbolizes. While she is too young to possibly comprehend Puritanical sin and punishment, Pearl can easily understand that the letter is her mother’s chastisement and embarrassment. And, Mother, he has his hand over his heart! Is it because, when the minister wrote his name in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why does he not wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, Mother? Through this statement made by Pearl, one may realize Pearl does see a connection between Hester’s letter and Dimmesdale’s habit of covering his heart with his hand, although she does not know what this connection is.
Hawthorne uses vivid descriptions to characterize Pearl. She is first described as the infant; “…whose innocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion.” From the beginning of her life, she is viewed as the product of sin, as a punishment. Physically, Pearl has a “beauty that became every day more brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child. Pearl is ravishing, with “beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints’ a bright complexion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black.”
Combined with her extreme beauty, are the lavish dresses that she wears. The exquisite dresses and her beauty cause her to be viewed as even stranger than the other typical Puritan children, who are dressed in traditional clothing. As a result, she is accepted by nature and animals and ostracized by the other Puritan children. “Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world… the whole peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to other children.” Pearl was not accepted by the children; her unavoidable seclusion was due to the sin of her mother.
On the rare occasion that the children would show interest in Pearl, she would “grow positively terrible in her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them…” Pearl plays one of the most crucial roles in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne uses Pearl as an effective and dynamic character. When we were first introduced to Pearl, she was immediately drawn to the scarlet A on Hester’s bosom. “But the first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was 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. Beginning in infancy, Pearl served as a reminder of the Scarlet A on her bosom. Hawthorne shows this symbolism at various times. In Chapter 7 Pearl and Hester go to the Governor’s house and Pearl’s attire “inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom.
It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!” Pearl is dressed in a scarlet dress with gold fringe exactly resembling the scarlet A on Hester’s bosom. Pearl had a natural inclination to focus on the scarlet letter, which is shown to its fullest in Chapter 15. “…Pearl took some eel- grass, and imitated, as best as she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s. A letter, the letter A, but freshly green, instead of scarlet!” Throughout Pearl’s continuous questions Hester has never denied the significance of the scarlet A on her bosom. However, in this scene, Hester eventually has to deny its significance to Pearl after she ceaselessly confronts her mother about its significance. One of the most symbolic scenes in the novel occurs in the forest as Pearl Hester is traveling to meet Dimmesdale. Pearl remarks to Hester that “the sunshine does not love you.
It runs away and hides because it is afraid of something on your bosom.” Sunshine, which symbolizes untroubled happiness, the approval of G-d and nature, rejects Hester because of her sin and the “thing on her bosom”. Therefore, Pearl constantly reminds her of her sin and her punishment. In one of the most dramatic scenes in the novel Pearl prevents Hester from escaping her sin and shame. Pearl “bursts into a fit of passion” and will not go to her mother until she puts the scarlet A back on her bosom and places her hair back underneath her cap. In the one moment that Hester attempts to escape her sin, Pearl refuses to recognize and acknowledge her until she returns to the shameful mother that she has always known.
Pearl is a guiltless child, with all a child’s freshness and spontaneity, however to Hester is a persistent remembrance of the scarlet A, which she must bare on her bosom. There are many continuous themes in which Pearl and her actions are large contributions to their overall portrayal. The theme of alienation, which is exhibited throughout all of the main characters, is clearly seen in the descriptions of Pearl. Pearl is always unaccepted by the community (which has already been addressed); she is shunned because of her mother’s sin. This can easily be viewed by analyzing the many various ways she is described by Hawthorne, by being weird and eerie, having imaginary friends, and continuously being called “elf-child”. She is ostracized and alienated from the Puritan society and the children of the community, contributing largely to the theme of alienation.
Another theme to which she contributes is the theme of beauty and its portrayal. “So smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flower and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality.” This quote describes the beauty that Pearl has attained while she is playing in the forest and Hester and Dimmesdale talk. Her natural beauty is enhanced as she approaches Hester and Dimmesdale, her mother and father. This beauty brings together the theme of love, which is present between the three, as well as the importance of shame. While Pearl approaches her mother, who is not wearing the scarlet A and whose hair is down, she refuses to acknowledge her without her A and capped hair.
This shows Pearl’s dissent for beauty as a solution to sin, which is expressed in the first few chapters when Hester is lightly punished for her adultery. Pearl is an amazing child, and perhaps one of the only many-sided characters in this novel. While the townsfolk and even Pearl’s own mother are afraid of the child, Pearl is, under close examination, a naturally inquisitive and temperamental child. Although some readers of this novel may not care to read between the lines and see beyond the labeling of demon and imp, the true Pearl is completely different from this stereotype.
The real Pearl, the inquisitive, intelligent, and beautiful creature she is, becomes the symbol of salvation in this novel. Pearl may be the product of sin and filthiness, yet she possesses traits that make her an amazing child. Indeed, Pearl is the rosebush that grows near the prison door: she is the one bright spot the prisoners of this novel see as they watch from their small windows in the dungeon of their minds.