Essay on The Scarlet Letter
Throughout the famed Puritan novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne symbolizes Pearl as dark and evil, as she was born out of sin. However, contrary to popular belief, Pearl is in fact the purest character in the novel. Hester Prynne was a woman from England who moved to America, before her husband, Roger Chillingworth, and committed adultery during his absence with an eminent minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. With the blame solely on Hester, and with the Puritan town oblivious to their loved minister’s true identity, she and Pearl, the fruit of her sin, were shunned from society. Yet, Dimmesdale continued being loved by his village.
When Pearl was first introduced, she symbolized Hester’s adultery in the most predominant way possible, her name. Like a precious pearl coming out of a black and ugly oyster, Pearl’s name represents good coming out of the bad. The bad being Hester and Dimmesdale’s adultery and the good being the beautiful, pure, and innocent child born into the world. Hester proclaimed that “[her] child must seek a heavenly Father” (Hawthorne, 64) because she represents good, thus only deserves God as her father, and not a sinner, like Dimmesdale. Thus, Pearl is the purest character in the novel, as she is directly associated with “a heavenly Father,” or God. Dimmesdale was not like a father to Pearl, God was. All Dimmesdale was to Pearl was the strange man who always “[kept] his hand over his heart” (191). He didn’t open up to his wrongs, he just held his “hand over his heart” and kept all his feelings and truths bottling up. He was very selfish and he was never there for Pearl, so the real father figure in her life was the Holy Father.
When Hester made the decision of committing adultery in a 17th century Puritan society, Pearl was “purchased with all [Hester] had — [she was] her mother’s only treasure” (81). Because she committed adultery, Hester had traded her dignity for the Scarlet Letter on her chest, and her baby, Pearl the living Scarlet Letter. These two things were symbols of her sin in her life, however, Pearl was there to not only keep Hester company, but to give Hester’s life a purpose. Pearl was “[Hester’s] pearl of great price” (81). She was very valuable, and cost a “great price” to Hester, even though Hester thought about shutting her up in closets. Without Pearl, Hester could have summoned Satan with Mistress Hibbins, but instead, she had an obligation to raise her daughter, and to stay out of the darkness.
Pearl is constantly associated with sin due to Hester and Dimmesdale’s adultery. Pearl herself, however, is a good child. When Hawthorne first introduced Pearl she was an “infant [who] pierced the air with [her] wailings and screams” (65). All babies “wail” and “scream,” it’s normal behavior; as they cannot speak. However, babies are not born evil; they become evil as they grow up, from the influence of their environment. Thus, it was incorrect for the Puritans to assume Pearl was evil solely because she was born out of adultery. There was no instance in which Pearl did something morally wrong that another child would be excused for. All other major characters have sinned i.e. Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, etc. Thus, Pearl is the purest character even though the Puritans see her as sinful and as “the body, or the reality of [Hester’s] sin,” because she truly represents good and has a direct connection to purity and heaven (73). Pearl’s supernatural inquiry and knowledge of her parents’ situation, for instance, when she asks Hester why Dimmesdale doesn’t wear his “[scarlet letter] outside his bosom” makes her not a demon, but gives her a supernatural or divine presence connected to good and heaven, not darkness and Hell (191).
Pearl was also brought into the world for another good purpose, to remind Dimmesdale of his sin, and to be the ultimate driving entity in his battle of self-flagellation and internal conflict. Like a flower trying to burst through the dirt and bloom into the sky, Dimmesdale was stuck underground in the dirt. He created his own personal purgatory, and his own Scarlet Letter by using archaic Christian flagellation rituals. He was stuck in this “purgatory” until he confessed to his sins, and Pearl was the reason he did so. Once he confessed to his sin, God set him free from his temporal life. It wasn’t just for Dimmesdale Pearl was born, “she was offered to the world” (186) so that they could know what Dimmesdale had done and what a hypocrite he was. The “world” being the Boston Puritan Colony. Like a “living hieroglyphic,” Pearl’s presence in Dimmesdale’s life got him to reveal “the secret [he] so darkly sought to hide” (186). That was one of the reasons God put her on this Earth. Not Satan, God. And that is why Pearl is the purest character Hawthorne created.
Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne directly associates Pearl with darkness, however she is truly the purest character in the novel. Like a beautiful, young pearl coming out of an ugly oyster, Pearl actually represents purity and the divine. God put her on the Earth with a purpose, to keep Hester in a good direction, and to get Dimmesdale to confess, and that connection makes her the purest character in the novel.