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Identity Of Pearl In The Scarlet Letter

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2172 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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Pearl is described to be elf, fey, and evil, which ascribes a unique shadow of light and shadow to her perpetual mystery and danger. She is wild, rebellious, and uncontrollable, whom God is never likely to care for a visit. She is far from the reader’s common understanding. Since The Scarlet Letter is permeated with a strong puritan color, many critics interpret pearl as a product of sin from a symbolic perspective. Or because of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s unhappy childhood and tense inner family relationships, some people interweaves innocent pearl with other protagonists’ mental world using the libido mechanism or Oedipus complex in a psycho-analytical way. However this sophisticated and difficult elf-child has not been exposed any little, she is still some unknown spirits hiding deeply under the defending clock.

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According to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, “God is dead”, consequently, this will lead to nihilism. If the world is nihilistic, then everything is permitted, and people attain the power to exercise a strong free will. With a strong free will, human can transform into superhuman who has all the possibility to achieve everything. As a superhuman, he is not confined to human morality, and he can not be defeated fate. In Hawthorn’s Scarlet Letter, is pearl a superman with a strong free will, or as others, she is also bound by fate? With the theory of Nietzsche and nihilism, this paper will go into the analysis of pearl and try to flick off the dust on pearl and give her a clear identity.

1. Pearl without Religious Conception

1.1 Puritan Background

With the high idealism of religious freedom, 102 puritan pilgrims stepped onto the Mayflower in 1620 to escape the old world. After 65 days’ hard struggle against the worst experience of ocean voyage, the boat landed on the new continent with a never so bright a future for them. They held the strong belief of Manifest Destiny, and practice their preaching regarding themselves on the behalf of the imminent God. They are devoted to build the new colonial world a pure puritan never-land.

â’‰ A person without God must be a person without religious conception

In the Bible, God is the creator of the world. He is our almighty lord, and we can never surpass the power of the control set by God. In the script, God teaches his sons of right, wrong, sacrifice, justice, love, sin, penitence, etc, which gives the very foundation of the western culture and mould their life.

In Scarlet Letter, in the governor’s hall, Governor Bellingham, Mr. Wilson, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth saw little pearl for the first time.

‘Ay, indeed!’ cried good old Mr. Wilson. …Art thou a Christian child-ha? Dost know thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies whom we thought to have left behind us, with other relics of Papistry, in merry old England?’

‘I am mother’s child,’ answered the scarlet vision, ‘and my name is Pearl!’ 1

This is Pearl’s first appearance in the novel, and she accompanies her mother to the governor’s hall. Mr. Wilson is so surprised with Pearl that he can’t help questioning the very identity and origin of this “little bird of red plumage”. The good people suppose that little pearl has a “demon origin”. Pearl is very beautiful in appearance of a child, besides, her mother gives her full play of her imagination and passion to make pear a garb “in a crimson velvet tunic of a peculiar cut, abundantly embroidered in fantasies and flourishes of gold thread.” (Scarlet Letter, chapter â…¦). When people question pearl’s demon origin and elf-like looking, these good people just impose their own religious judgement on this innocent child. Conversely, Pearl totally has not any idea of these critical narrow-minded eyes and these imprisoned minds. She introduced herself that she is mother’s child biologically and she has a name of Pearl. Here pearl bears no religious burden in her heart, so religious morality has no power on her inner spiritual world. Now comes a bold conclusion: this scene is a hidden confrontation between Puritanism and a new conception, more specifically nihilism or atheism.

2. Free will vs Fate

Does Pearl have a strong free will? Can pearl exercise her free will? Is Pearl restricted by fate?

Before examining these doubts, a clear cognition of free will and fate is very important. Free will referred here is a restricted willpower, and it’s a restricted one instead of an infinite one. Free will bears a strong responsibility, and it demands people to believe in themselves. There are no gods or any other agent who determine our character, and we are responsible for cultivating our own characters.

Fatalism is the thesis that what happens must happen. Fatalism believes that free will is impossible, actions are free, but nevertheless goes to an inevitable end. Determinism holds that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of prior affairs. Fate may refer to destiny, an inevitable course of events. Fate here is more Determinism than Fatalism.

2.1. A little powerless girl

Dimmesdale pours out such bitter struggling words to Hester:

“I am powerless to go. Wretched and sinful as I am, I have had no other thought than to drag on my earthly existence in the sphere where Providence hath placed me…”2

When he shed all his desperate feelings on the word “powerless”, we common readers catch so heavy a weakness in his personality. He blames this powerlessness on Providence, and he excuses fate for all his hesitation and un-action. There is litter sincereness in his hypocrite tone.

But when focus comes to Pearl, “powerless” is sure to be a justifiable word for her. Hester goes to Governor’s hall to plead for a permission of rearing her own child. Even Pearl is described to be “fiend-like”, “dauntless”, “wild and flighty little elf”, she has no right to control her own life, nor does she has the power to fight against this injustice. This feeling of desperation and powerless is unconquerable, and it keeps haunting human beings through life, as it shoulders the unbearable burden of fate.

2.2. Un-escapable Fate

Pearl as a child is powerless, then what if she grows up and can makes her own decisions, can she escape fate all in all? At the end of the story, it writes

“in no long time after the physician’s death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared, and Pearl along with her.”3

Pearl leaves and abandons her past with her mother in order to acquire a new life. In so doing, they both finally can leave behind their sinful life, and cast away the spell of fate upon themselves. In such a brave action, their free will pushes them forward, and their independence against fate is so near around their catch.

However, the detail of Chillingworth’s last will can not be overlooked in the discussion here.

“At old Roger Chillingworth’s decease… he bequeathed a very considerable amount of property, both here and in England to little Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne…

So Pearl-the elf child-the demon offspring, as some people up to that epoch persisted in considering her-became the richest heiress of her day in the New World.”4

What’s the importance of Chillingworth’s bequeathment to Pearl? It gives Pearl the material foundation to build a new life outside the “New World”. Without this foundation, a new life would be a castle in the air. But this foundation is not achieved by any free will by Pear, and it is old Chillingworth’s will to give. Thus this bequeathment becomes a fate left on Pearl.

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Friedrich Nietzsche proposes strong willpower (free will), hence there comes Hitler; Arthur Schopenhauer speaks loud for the limits of free will, only resulting in the pessimism. If they are too extreme, there should be a balance between fate and free will. However, in the above analysis of Pearl, we scarcely see any free will in her monumental turn-point, she is also enslaved by the powerful fate, and this helps us to locate her as a product of fate.

3. Representation and Essence

The reason why pearl is misunderstood to be evil, fey, and elf, is largely lies on her unnatural intuition.

Pearl asks her mother what the scarlet letter means, why she wears the A, and why minister Dimmesdale keeps his hand over his heart. These inter-connecting questions raised by a-three-year old girl are bizarre, and the questions themselves are beyond her ability to compose if she is just a normal little child. Pearl tells Hester that Chillingworth has a manipulation on Dimmesdale, and she is intuitively sensitive. On the scene of Dimmesdale’s virgil, Pearl laughs three times without manifest reasons, and she is haunted and dangerous. There are so many examples that can be quoted to illustrate Pear’s abnormality, but all the truth lies in her words. She tells truth from false.

The eagerness and subtlety, I should even say craftiness, with which the problem of ‘the real and the apparent world’ is dealt with at present throughout Europe, furnishes food for thought and attention; and he who hears only a ‘Will to Truth’ in the background, and nothing else, cannot certainly boast of the sharpest ears. In rare and isolated cases, it may really have happened that such a Will to Truth-a certain extravagant and adventurous pluck, a metaphysician’s ambition of the forlorn hope-has participated therein: that which in the end always prefers a handful of ‘certainty’ to a whole cartload of beautiful possibilities; there may even be puritanical fanatics of conscience, who prefer to put their last trust in a sure nothing, rather than in an uncertain something.5

Nietzsche, in developing “Prejudices of Philosophers”, tells that people are suffocated themselves in their own prejudices in the process of searching for the real world. Pearl is the only one in the novel who tells the essence from the representation, because she is the only innocent being who is not prejudiced in any standard in the whole story.

Since Adam and Eve eat the forbidden apple, sin comes forth. In puritan’s theology, these inborn desires represent sin, and people should repent, sacrifice and keep stoic. In Scarlet Letter, before the prison door, when Hester is going to cross the market place, women in the crowd gossip here and there and squeeze their hatred and disgust words toward her scandalous and sinful affairs. For these gossiping women, doesn’t their superego take control of their id, and twist their ego to prejudice? The more superego repress id, the more id will fight back. The stronger these women criticize Hester’s sin, the stronger their own passion for sin burst out of their hatred words. They cheat themselves by decorating a contrary expression.

For pearl, she has a view from nowhere which is similar to the immanent power. The Existentialists believe that the world is a nothing and in nothing can people build something. And pearl build truth from her nihilistic world. In real life, people are afraid of a nihilistic world, because a nihilistic world is like the most primitive world when Adam and Eve were cast into a helpless and total strange place. In escaping this state, people learn to hold on to some common thing (religion, common interest, common prejudice, etc.) which bind people together and share a sense of belonging. While in the mean time, they also are restricted by these common things. There is a scene in Scarlet Letter when pearl plays with herself by the river bank, she is so quiet and content with loneliness and the state of nothing. This is quite the same as the Buddhism’s teaching in The Diamond Sutra that the world is empty without essence and seeing everything can be attained from egolessness and nothingness. In explaining this, we can borrow the conception of framework. A person lives in a framework like a prison which shapes a unique lifestyle. He/She think in this framework and eat in this framework. Also they’ve been changed by this framework. However Pearl is born to be a total blank and she doesn’t change until the spell is let go. She has not a framework and she is free from prejudice of all kinds. She is what the Buddha calls true Bodhisattvas.

By breaking Pearl’s mysterious behavior and words, a real Pearl will come before us and expose herself as an un-prejudiced human being who is also confined by fate.


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