In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the character of Pearl is a complicated symbol represented in the form of a human child. Her affinity with the scarlet letter is stressed throughout the novel with the use of symbolic colors, reflecting her relationships with the people around her and the power of human vitality and resilience in the face of prejudice and injustice.
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Pearl is the living personification of the scarlet letter: “It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life.” (Page 98) She is the symbol and consequence of her mother’s forbidden sin of adultery and an indicator of a transgression. The clothing Hester Prynne chose to dress Pearl in further augments the connection between Pearl and the scarlet letter. She wears a “crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread.” (Page 98) that mimics the color and embroidery of the ignominious scarlet letter. Hester has created the connection deliberately, “lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity to create an analogy between the object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture.” (Page 98) The association between the symbolic colors and Pearl is undeniable and it stresses the irreplaceable role of the scarlet letter in her life, which ultimately influences her physical and emotional relationships with the people around her. Pearl, not only reflects her mother sin, but also represents the vital spirit of passion that drives both Hester and Dimmesdale to commit the adultery. “In giving her existence, a great law had been broken, and as a result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder.” (Page 87) The narrator comments that although Pearl is everything the Puritan system denies- beauty, freedom and imagination -she very much represents abstractions of elements in Hester’s own character. Hester’s resilience is projected on to Pearl, as they both, although Pearl is not completely aware, endure the torment and social isolation that is caused by the prejudice and injustice in society. Thus Pearl embodies the true rebelliousness of Hester, showing how superficial her quiet demeanor in public actually is and how she silently protests against the rigid conventions of the system that has caused her so much suffering
Hester Prynne loves Pearl, but also hates her at the same time. It is this sense of ambivalence that witnesses Pearl’s growth and significance throughout The Scarlet Letter. In the beginning, Pearl is described almost like a demonic and inhuman child, causing even Hester to question her origin and kind. “O Father in Heaven- if Thou art still my Father -what is this being which I have brought into the world!” (Page 92) Pearl is Hester’s punishment like the scarlet letter, and indubitably acts as a constant reminder of her sin and guilt, making it nearly impossible for Hester to forget the shame she has to endure. But as the narrative progresses, Hester also reveals the other side of the story, where her love for Pearl makes it difficult to believe that she has done wrong. “Pearl, as being of great price- purchased with all she had -her mother’s only treasure!” (Page 85) suggests how Pearl, like the scarlet letter, is both a blessing and a punishment, yet Hester has willingly paid a price to be a good mother and devotes her whole life to raising the child, which is all that she has left. Her love for Pearl allows her to persevere, albeit the unpropitious situation, illustrating the strength of human vitality and resilience that Pearl instigates in her. “She is my happiness! -she is my torture none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her, I will die first!” (page 109) Even Hester herself acknowledges the affiliation between Pearl and the scarlet letter, yet the child is both her happiness and her torture, rousing conflicting emotions within. Pearl has imperceptibly become an invaluable part of Hester’s life and thus making it impossible for them to be separated, no matter what the community elders suggest.
Not only is Pearl the child of Hester Prynne, she also represents a form of conscience within the narrative. Pearl who is the result of an irrevocable crime, becomes the symbol of her mother’s guilt and rebellion, while at the same time also acts as the intuitive voice and the driving force behind Hester’s vitality despite the adverse conditions. Being closely related to the scarlet letter, through the symbolic usage of color, Pearl has been conscious about the existence of the conspicuous letter on her mother’s bosom since infancy. “But that the first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware of was- shall we say it? -the scarlet letter on Hester’s bosom!” (Page 93) Her awareness and connection with the letter proffers another point of view and shed lights on the mysteries in the beginning of the novel. Pearl’s childish innocence provides a difference perspective in a straightforward and bias-free manner, counterbalancing the seemingly inscrutable depths of the truth. “Pearl, that wild and flighty elf, stole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both of her own, laid her cheek against it;” (Page 112) The line suggests an almost innate affection that Pearl possesses for Dimmesdale, while she dislikes Chillingworth, as if hinting and foreshadowing what is to come in the story. Pearl not only is Hester’s daughter, but also a protective and intuitive guide that has saved her from the “black man” and the prejudice and injustice of Puritan society. She has the ability “to keep her mother’s soul alive, and to preserve her from blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have sought to plunge her!” (Page 111)
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Through the use of symbolic colors, the character of Pearl Prynne and her association with the scarlet letter is emphasized, thus affecting her relationships with those around her and reflecting the triumph of human resilience in the face of prejudice and injustice in society. The contradicting emotions that Hester has for her daughter and the similarities between the two, mold Pearl into the symbolic character of human resilience and vitality that she is in The Scarlet Letter.
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