In The Scarlet Letter, it is fitting to acknowledge that Hawthorne was successful in portraying an individual who arguably became one of the most intriguing child figures in the history of American literature. Although she finds herself in a complex situation being the illegitimate daughter of Arthur Dimmesdale and Herter Prynne, Pearl manages to play a vital role both as a dynamic force in the story and a moral guardian as demonstrated by her preternatural character. In extensive discourses on characters in the novel, literary experts have more often than not mistakenly paid little attention to the profound significance of Pearl’s character and the symbolism she relays throughout the story. Pearl permeates the plot, with mention of her name appearing in four chapters ( I, IX, XI, XVII) together with the conclusion. The narrator provides an extensive treatment of this particular child with particular care being given to the delineation of her spiritual and physical qualities. His detailed presentation of Pearl also happens to be in juxtaposition to both Dimmesdale and her use in critical scenes in the novel, especially the pillory and forest scenes) justifies the notion that she is more than just a passive connection between her parents(Ryken 13). The purpose of this research paper is to analyzes how Pearl becomes a symbol of sin, truth, guilt and hope in The Scarlet Letter, and how she succeeds in this role.
Pearl’s conception is as a result of what was regarded as an “immoral” act at the time. She remains a living symbol and reminder of her parent’s sin. Chapter 19, in particular, has instances where Pearl is referred to by the narrator as a “living hieroglyphic”. She is even cast out from the Puritan society that surrounds her in Boston because of her “immoral” and sinful origin, living in the outskirts of the town. Additionally, this unique child was to serve as punishment to Hester from God. The protagonist’s deity hands down the punishment to ensure that it becomes both a physical and mental reminder of the sinful act. The scarlet “A” letter and Pearl, the token of her adultery, become a constant reminder of her transgression against both man and God. She betrayed her husband after lying with another man while at the same time going against God’s commandment that forbids adultery. Pearl, in a way, becomes a messenger of justice Hawthorne (Hawthorne 339). Hester even goes to the extent of describing her as the “living scarlet that was later endowed with life…the emblem of her guilt and torture…”(Hawthorne 204) All parties involved are aware of the consequences that they now have to suffer and live with for disobeying God and going against the societal norms.
Pearl has a preternatural character that makes her the living embodiment of truth. He character has an instinct for truth and is responsible for the unconscious awareness that she has concerning sharing blood ties with Dimmesdale. In one instance she lays her tender cheek against the back of his hand while at the Governor’s mansion and later on recognizes Chillingworth and labels him a “Black Man”. All these instances point to a manifestation of the child’s semi-prophetic power of discernment.( Hawthorne 234) The innocent child was able to see through the dissimulation of all those that she came into direct contact with in her quest to find and stand by the truth. Pearl’s striking insight into matters that relate to truthfulness seems to emanate and be enforced by her direct contact with pure and unadulterated nature. The contact she gains helps her to safeguard her spotless soul from all ills, lies and deleterious conventions found in the society during her time(Kesterson 24). After expulsion from Boston, Hester seeks refuge on the outskirts of the town, creating a dwelling for and her child at the edge of the forest. Hester’s retreat from everyday life with society symbolizes her desire to escape man and embracing nature at the fringes of the town, thus easing Pearl’s association with it. When in the outdoors, embracing the wilderness around her, Pearl constantly develops a conscious desire to formally merge with nature, while it absorbs her. In the middle of the vast forest, Hawthorne is successful at manipulating the shade and light so magnificently, where the sun seemingly avoids Hester’s face and figure deliberately, at first. Later on, it is Pearl who manages to catch the beam of sunshine, with the light lingering about this lonely child, as if happy to meet such a playmate(Hawthorne 276). Pearl also serves as an embodiment of the true and pure love that exists between her parents. Even at a young tender age, she is precariously intelligent and in a way, frighteningly independent, bewilderingly subtle and in some instances, penetratingly wise. In carrying her banner of truth, she demonstrates her perversity towards religious and social authority through her persistent hostility directed at the Puritans brats.
The adulterous act that would result in the birth of Pearl, gives rise to a symbol of guilt. All societies have written and unwritten codes on how people ought to carry themselves and all that they can or cannot do. Similarly, the Puritan society was founded on strong Christian values, with a doctrine that happened to lay great emphasis in sexual chastity and purity. To this Bostonian Puritan society, adultery is the height of indiscretion committed to one’s partner and to God. Hester and Dimmesdale go against the norms through their affair. The Hester has to live a life of shame and guilt, after the birth of her daughter for having gone behind her husband’s back and for having disobeyed God’s command on adultery. She is aware of this burden and knows that she has to carry it for the rest of her life compounded by the fact that she refused to publicly name the father of her child. Herr decision to keep Dimmesdale’s name a closely guarded secret and the guilt she faces after being ostracized in society means that she can no longer call it her home and is forced to move to its outskirts. It is the guilt, deep-seated in her that drives her to make such drastic measure, to dwell in a locality that if free of all the judgemental stares that she would face back in Boston. A new environment means that she can also raise her child without having to struggle with thoughts of the terrible injustice she might have done to bring an illegitimate child into the world that was not free of prejudice and where she would most likely suffer as a result of her mother sin. Furthermore, the red scarlet “A” on the bosom of Hester and Dimmesdale, is the bane of their existence(The Feminine Ancestral Footsteps: Symbolic Language between Women in the Scarlet Letter and the House of the Seven Gables 106). They suffer the pain strikes their bodies whenever it glows, each time reminding them of their sinful acts and plunging them even deeper into the abyss of pain. Both individuals are gripped with sadness and guilt for having engaged in this reprehensible act, but both could not help it owing to the fire of love and desire that was alive in both of them. Even with guilt constantly over their heads, they took a giant leap of faith when they carried on with their affair, aware of all that they were in the New World, a land of opportunity where they could give their love a chance.
Pearl is a true representation of hope for a better future. She is born out of wedlock, which automatically means that she will have to start life from a disadvantaged. The dogmatic society that she finds herself in does not fully accept and approve of individuals of her caliber. Both Hester and her mother are shunned by society, prompting them to live in solitude, a move that proves beneficial for Pearl in the long run. It was the thought of many Bostonian Puritans that subjecting them to a life of exile would serve as a punishment, but in a dramatic turn of events, the life Pearl leads in the wilderness serves her right by purifying her soul off the blight that would poison her(Bloom ). Hawthorne also presents the hope of salvation from his observation on Pearl,”…….and Pearl was the oneness of their being. Be the foregone evil what it might, how could they doubt that their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined….when they beheld at once the material union……and the spiritual idea, in whom they met, and were to dwell immortally together?‘ (Hawthorne 296). To add to this, Pearl is also viewed as a blessing rather than a curse by her mother. The scarlet letter on her chest brings her much pain and distress, but at the end of the day, all this pain and suffering is worth it. It is said that the sun would avoid her due to this scarlet letter on her chest, but she would still wear its and not remove it, as a symbol of the hope that she has the profound love that she has for her dear daughter.
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