Analysis Of Pearl In Hawthorne

’s “The Scarlet Letter” Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of Pearl in Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”

One of the most significant writers of the romantic period in American

literature was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote stories that opposed the

ideas of Transcendentalism. Since he had ancestors of Puritan belief, Hawthorne

wrote many stories about Puritan New England. His most famous story is the

Scarlet Letter. This novel tells of the punishment of a woman, Hester Prynne,

who committed adultery and gave birth to Pearl. A minister of Boston, Arthur

Dimmesdale, had an affair with Hester while believing that her husband, Roger

Chillingworth, had died. However, Chillingworth did not die and appears during

the early stages of Hester’s punishment.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the character of Pearl in the

Scarlet Letter. Her whole life had many difficulties while living in Puritan

New England. Furthermore, Pearl displays much parallelism to the scarlet letter

that Hester must wear. Finally, Pearl’s birth intensified the conflicts in the

novel. Clearly, Pearl becomes the symbol of all the other major characters’



The character of Pearl in the Scarlet Letter lived a very difficult life.

Before the novel begins, Hester Prynne gives birth to Pearl after having an

affair with Arthur Dimmesdale, a Puritan minister. Pearl’s birth proves that

Hester cheated on her husband Roger Chillingworth provoking the stories action.

The novel opens with the people of Boston staring and laughing at Hester holding

Pearl while standing on the town’s scaffold. At this time, Pearl is three

months old. Years later Hester gets released from jail and lives with Pearl in

the outskirts of town. Since Hester becomes alienated from Boston, Pearl turns

into “her mother’s only treasure!” (Hawthorne 76). Hester makes bright red

clothes for Pearl that parallel the scarlet “A.” At age three, Pearl endures

many laughs and jokes from other Puritan children but chases them away with

stones. Since Pearl’s birth resulted from broken rules, she does not feel the

obligation to follow rules. Although her life is an outcast of Puritan society,

Pearl’s language shows a high level of intelligence. Later, Hester receives

word that the magistrates want to take Pearl away from her. Hester takes Pearl

to the governor’s house where the child meets her father, Arthur Dimmesdale.

After Dimmesdale persuades the governors to allow Hester to keep Pearl, he gives

the child a kiss on the forehead. This kiss hints that Dimmesdale is Pearl’s


When Hester and Pearl return from Governor Winthrop’s death bed, they join

Dimmesdale standing on the town’s scaffold. Pearl asks Dimmesdale “Wilt thou

stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?” (Hawthorne 131) twice.

Realizing that Arthur is her father, Pearl wants him to confess his sin so that

the three of them can live peacefully. Next, Hester takes Pearl for a walk in

the woods to meet Dimmesdale. While the two lovers talk and come up with plans

to leave for England, Pearl goes off and plays in the woods. After Hester and

Dimmesdale finish talking, Pearl returns and finds that her mother has removed

the scarlet letter. Pearl, who has grown attached to the “A,” throws a temper

tantrum until Hester puts the letter back on her dress. Later, Dimmesdale

kisses Pearl, who then runs to a brook and washes off the kiss. Pearl does not

accept Dimmesdale as her father. At the end of the novel, Hester and Pearl go

to England, but Hester returns and dies in Boston. Hawthorne never tells

exactly what happened to Pearl. The people of Boston have many different ideas

about Pearl’s fate. For example, some believe that she died or that she married

and received money from Chillingworth’s will. The character of Pearl portrayed

a large role in the plot of the Scarlet Letter.


Nathaniel Hawthorne develops Pearl into the most obvious central symbol of

the novel, the scarlet letter. First, Pearl’s birth resulted from the sin of

adultery, the meaning of the “A.” Since she came from a broken rule, Pearl does

not feel that she has to follow rules. Hawthorne expresses that “The child could

not be made amendable to rules” (Hawthorne 91). Next, Pearl exhibits the same

characteristics as the scarlet letter. For example, the letter contains scarlet

fabric. Hester makes red clothes for Pearl to wear, making her an outcast of

Puritan society. Likewise, wearing the scarlet letter has made Hester an outcast

of society. Furthermore, Pearl grows just as Hester continues to enlarge the

letter by adding golden thread. During infancy, “The letter is the first

object that Pearl becomes aware of” (Baym 57). Throughout her life, Pearl

became very attached to the scarlet letter that was on Hester’s bosom. When

Hester removed it in the forest, Pearl became detached from her mother. Finally,

at the end of the novel Hester, still wearing the scarlet letter, returns to

Boston without Pearl. Although Hawthorne does not tell what happened to Pearl,

the reader learns about the death of Hester. Before Hester died, she continued

to wear the scarlet letter. While all alone in Boston, one can reason that

Hester wore the letter to keep Pearl a part of herself. Since Pearl symbolized

the scarlet letter, she held a large role in the plot of the Scarlet Letter.

Hawthorne’s character of Pearl is the most significant object in developing

the plot of the Scarlet Letter. To start, Pearl’s birth proved Hester’s sin of

adultery. Subsequently, the people of Boston forced Hester to wear the scarlet

letter. The letter turns Hester into an outcast of society. Next, when

Chillingworth found out that Hester gave birth to Pearl, he became determined to

find the father of the child. Chillingworth thinks that Dimmesdale had the

affair with Hester, but he cannot prove it. While caring for Dimmesdale,

Chillingworth commits many cruel deeds against the minister. Pearl helped to

create the conflict between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Furthermore, Pearl’s

birth reminded Dimmesdale of his sin of having an affair with Hester. Because of

his cowardly personality, Dimmesdale tries to fast and whip the sin from his

body plus “confessing his sin as he faces his Sunday congregation” (Leavitt 74).

The birth of Pearl ignited the conflict within Dimmesdale. Finally, the

conflict between Pearl and the children of Boston surfaces. Pearl’s red

clothing becomes a target of other children’s jokes. If the affair had never

produced a child, then the novel’s major conflicts most likely would be less

intense. Therefore, every major conflict has its roots with Pearl’s birth.

In Hawthorne’s novel the Scarlet Letter, Pearl represents the anguish in

the lives of the other major characters. Life in Puritan New England presented

many difficulties for Hester Prynne’s daughter Pearl. Next, Pearl becomes a

scarlet letter as the novel progresses. Finally, the most significant part of

the Scarlet Letter’s plot was the birth and life of Pearl. The purpose of this

essay was to analyze the character Pearl from the Scarlet Letter.

Most of her characteristics show that Pearl could be a real child. For

example, Pearl’s language expresses a sign of a child prodigy with a good parent

teacher. Pearl’s behavior could also mean that she feels rebellious to all of

the hardships that she acquires from society. Finally, Pearl compares with a

real child in that she constantly tries throughout the novel to find out what

takes place around her. Overall, Nathaniel Hawthorne developed Pearl

successfully and made her one of the most significant and memorable characters

in the Scarlet Letter.


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