"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Pearl as a Symbolic Device to Work on the Consciences of Hester and Dimmesdale

Essay by marinab143High School, 11th grade January 2003

download word file, 2 pages 3.0

Pearl as a Symbolic Device to Work on the Consciences of Hester and Dimmesdale

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Pearl Prynne is the living manifestation of the scarlet letter. She is the visible tie between Hester and Dimmesdale. The beautiful estranged daughter of the town adulteress, Pearl has demon-like traits. She is a very strange child, yet she is the one who leads both Hester and Dimmesdale to the acceptance of their sin and Dimmesdale to his confession in the end of the novel.

Initially, Pearl is the living punishment for Hester's sin. She is Hester's torture, as well as her treasure. Pearl is definitely a blunt little girl, speaking anything and everything on her mind. She constantly harasses her mother about the scarlet letter. When Hester took off the letter and let her hair down in the forest, Pearl had a fit. She did not want her mother to take the scarlet letter off for the wrong reasons.

Pearl also did not want Hester to run away from her problems by sailing to Europe. She wanted Hester to face up to her sin and accept it.

Pearl is very harsh towards her mother at times, always teasing her about the scarlet letter, such as the forest scene. The sun was shining in a certain part of the woods and Pearl ran to get in the light. Hester reached out her hand to the sunshine, but it moved away to a different spot in the forest. Pearl taunted Hester, saying, "Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom." (166) Even though Pearl does seem mean at times towards her mother, all of this mocking eventually leads up to Hester's acceptance of her sin.

Pearl is not only a symbol of Hester's sin, but is just the same a symbol of Dimmesdale's sin. Throughout the book, Pearl will not let Dimmesdale into her life, or accept him as her father until he finally recognizes her as his daughter at the end of the book. Pearl asked her father many times in the novel to go with her and her mother to the scaffold and stand with them at noontide, but Dimmesdale was always too afraid to confess his sins and his love for Hester and Pearl to the public. Whenever they were hidden from the sight of the townspeople, such as in the second scaffold scene and in the forest scene, Dimmesdale tried to treat Pearl with goodness as a father would, but Pearl would not accept any sweetness he gave her until he came clean with his sins. By not letting Dimmesdale acknowledge Pearl as his daughter in secret, she led him to the realization that the only way he would find salvation and be accepted by his daughter would be to confess his sins to the public.

In The Scarlet Letter, Pearl is the scarlet letter, alive. Pearl worked hard on the consciences of Dimmesdale and Hester and finally achieved her goal at the end of the book. Throughout the book, the things Pearl says and does to Hester and Dimmesdale appear to be harsh and make her appear to be a demon child, but, at the end, the reader realizes that for Hester to finally accept her sin and Dimmesdale to confess his, Pearl's starkness was a definite necessity.