The scarlet letter and symbolism

The Scarlet Letter is a novel with a lot of symbolism. Throughout the novel various characters represent other ideas. One of the most complex and misunderstood characters in the novel is Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne. Pearl, throughout the story, becomes a dynamic symbol, one that is always changing. Although Pearl changes, she always symbolizes evil. Pearl symbolizes evil in the story by representing God’s punishment for Hester’s sin, symbolizing guilt and the scarlet letter that controls her behavior and defying Puritan laws by being cheerful and associating with nature. Pearl represents God’s punishment by taunting and scolding Hester. Throughout the novel, she sometimes appeared to her mother almost like a witch baby (Matthiessen 104). She is a bewildering mix of strong emotions with a fiery temper and a capacity for evil. With Pearl, Hester’s life became one of constant discomfort and no joy. The boy could not make himself docile to the rules. Hester even comments to herself, “O heavenly Father, if you are still my father, what is this being that I have brought into the world” (Hawthorne 89)? Pearl bullied her mother Piyasena/Pine 2 for the scarlet “A” she wore. Over time, Hester was teased so much by Pearl and others that she was forced into seclusion from her. Pearl represents the sins of Hester and Dimmesdale. Pearl is said to be the direct consequence of sin (Martin 108). Her sins include lying to people about the matter that led to Pearl. Hester realizes what Pearl stands for when she doesn’t hold Pearl up to the “A”. She carries the child because it is a direct reflection of her sin. Hester is “wisely judging that one display of her shame would do little to conceal another” (Hawthorne 48).

Dimmesdale’s sin is not adultery but not having the courage to admit adultery. Therefore his is a “hidden sin.” The scarlet letter amuses Pearl and also controls her behavior. It is noted that Pearl has been described almost exclusively in terms of chaotic and uncontrolled passion (MacLean 54). Throughout the novel, Pearl is attracted to “A”. Even when she is just a baby, “her baby’s eyes had been caught by the glitter of the gold embroidery around the letter” (Hawthorne 90). When Pearl is older and Hester drops the letter on the ground, Pearl yells at her mother until she places the “A” back on her chest. Hawthorne says that Pearl is, “the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life”, (95) which proves that she is truly the scarlet letter. Throughout the book, the “A” is the sign by which the colonial authority seeks to fix the crime and the criminal (Ragussis 97), although the cloth shows the sin, so does Perla. She is a much stronger device for punishing Hester than Piyasena/Pine 3 the piece of cloth on Hester’s chest. Due to her influence, Pearl becomes the main agent for her mother’s salvation. Hester and Dimmesdale share a lot of guilt because of Pearl. Dimmesdale’s guilt is filled with mental anguish and serves as a constant reminder of her sin. Dimmesdale is a minister [who] he commits adultery and is brought to public confession out of remorse (Martin 108). He remains silent so that he can continue to do God’s work as a minister. It is said that he was a guilty character [who] finds empathy in relation to others (Peckham 92). Pearl brings the blame on her when she wasn’t with them on the gallows; “You were not bold! You were not sincere! … You did not promise to take my hand and my mother’s hand tomorrow at noon” (Hawthorne 150)! Hester’s fault, however, stems from both Chillingsworth and Dimmesdale. Chillingsworth married a woman who did not love him, which is one of the causes of Hester’s guilt. Dimmesdale blames her when he sees her suffer alone for the sin they both committed. Although they both committed the same sin, only Hester’s shines. Pearl was overjoyed because of the scarlet letter that her mother possessed. When the breastplate of Governor Bellingham’s mansion distorts the scarlet “A” into something overwhelming and hideous, it is Pearl who points to it, “smiling at her mother with the pixie intelligence that was such a familiar expression on her little countenance” (Hawthorne 99). Even when she was a child, she Pearl clung to the letter “and, raising her little hand, she seized it, [the letter] smiling, to be sure, but Piyasena/Pine 4 with a decided glow” (Hawthorne 90).

Pearl’s tendency to focus on the scarlet letter is fully developed when she imitates her mother by placing an “A” of seaweed on her own chest. Much of Pearl’s strangeness stems from her exceptional quickness of mind and the abnormal environment in which she is raised with only her mother as her companion. As Pearl develops a personality, she becomes a symbol of the kind of passion that accompanied Hester’s sin. Hester tolerated Pearl’s pretentious behavior, but in her heart she could not condemn the girl. Because Pearl becomes so closely associated with the letter “A” on Hester’s chest, she becomes the embodiment of not only Hester’s sin but also his conscience. Nature is a fun hobby for Pearl; therefore, one of her favorite activities is playing with flowers and trees. She fits in with the natural things, “and she was a gentleman here [the forest] then in the grass-lined streets of the settlement, or in his mother’s cabin,” as Hawthorne notes in the novel (202). She is so closely affiliated with nature that the creatures of the forest flock to her instead of scattering. “The forest-mother, and these wild things she fed, recognized a kindred nature in the human child,” Hawthorne notes as Pearl walks with her mother (202).

However, the Puritans believed that everything related to the forest was bad; therefore, Pearl defies her laws by being effervescent and joyful in the forest. Some of the puritans even believe that she is a demonic offspring. Her behavior is so unusual that she is often referred to by terms such as “elf girl”, “imp”, and “air sprite”. Pearl is a virtual shouting match between puritanical views and romantic ways. Pearl is a source of many types of symbolism. She is both a rose and, in fact, the scarlet letter. If she hadn’t been born, Hester wouldn’t have had to carry the letter. Pearl is a burden on Hester; however, Hester loves her. She is also her mother’s only treasure and her only source of survival. Without Pearl, Hester would have lived a different life, without the scarlet letter, without sin, and without her treasure.

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