The Scarlett Letter Essay, Research Paper
The Scarlet Letter is a book of much symbolism. One of the
most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book is Pearl, the
daughter of Hester Prynne. Pearl, throughout the story, develops into
a dynamic symbol – one that is always changing. In the following
essay, I will explore some of the symbolism which Pearl came to
represent throughout the novel.
In The Scarlet Letter, Hester, for her sins, received a
scarlet letter, "A" which she had to wear upon her chest. This was
the Puritan way of treating her as a criminal, for the crime of
adultery ‘ At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead.’ (Pg. 59) This is how some people felt about her punishment. The Puritan treatment continued, because as Hester would walk through the streets, she would be looked down upon as if she were some sort of demon from Hell that committed a terrible crime. This would give her much mental anguish and grief. On the other hand, God’s treatment of Hester for her sin was quite different than just a physical token: he gave Hester the punishment of a very unique child which she named Pearl. This punishment handed down from God was a constant mental and physical reminder to Hester of what she had done wrong, and she could not escape it ‘Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl on mine!’ (pg.99) At times Hester would get frustrated. In this aspect, Pearl symbolized God’s way of punishing Hester for adultery.
The way Hester’s life was ruined for so long was the ultimate
price that Hester paid for Pearl. With Pearl, Hester’s life was one
almost never filled with joy, but instead a constant nagging. Pearl
would harass her mother over the scarlet "A" which she wore ‘Mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean?-and why dost thou wear it on they bosom?-and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?’ Pearl would also make her own "A" to wear, and sometimes she played games with her mother’s, trying to hit it with rocks. ‘I wonder if Mother will ask me what it means?’ (Pg. 171) Little Pearl is opposite of what people think, she’s a playful little girl. When Hester would go into the town with Pearl, the other children would make fun of her,
and Pearl would yell and throw dirt at them. So, in this case, Pearl
symbolized the decimation of Hester’s life and mental state.
Although Hester had so much trouble with Pearl, she still felt
that Pearl was her treasure. "…her mother’s only treasure!" (Pg. 91) Pearl was really the only thing that Hester had in life, and if Pearl wasn’t in Hester’s life, Hester would almost surely have committed suicide. Once in a while, Pearl would bring joy to Hester’s life, and that helped her to keep on living. Pearl really symbolized a rose to her mother, at some times she could be bright and vibrant, and really love her mother, but at other times, she could be wilting. It was at these times when she was "wilting" that brought Hester the most grief.
One final way in which Pearl symbolized something in the novel
was with her association with the scarlet letter. Pearl really was
the scarlet letter, because if Pearl had never been born, Hester would
have never been found guilty of adultery, and thus never would have
had to wear that burden upon her chest. Without that burden, Hester
would have led a much better life then the one she had throughout the
In closing, Pearl was a source of many different kinds of
symbolism. From being a rose, to representing the scarlet letter "A",
she was a kind of burden, yet love for Hester. Pearl was more then her mother’s only treasure; she was her mother’s only source of survival.