Pearl in Hawthorne’s Romance The Scarlet Letter
Ph.D. candidate, School of Foreign Languages in Hunan Normal University Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne portrays one of the most enigmatic child figures in American literature. Although she is an illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl plays an important role more as a dynamic force of moral guardian than a static symbol of sin in the plot. The purpose of this article is to present the aspects of Pearl‘s preternatural character, the functions that she performs in the plot, and the reasons why Pearl could achieve these in Hawthorne‘s romance.
Key Words: Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Pearl, Preternatural, Moral Guardian, American Romance
In the discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s The Scarlet Letter, little attention has been given to the significance of Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Pearl is presented, mentioned, or discussed in all but four of the twenty-three chapters of the novel (i.e. chaps. I, IX, XI, XVII) and in the conclusion. The narrator‘s extensive treatment of the child, his careful delineation of her physical and spiritual qualities, his presentation of her in juxtaposition to both Hester and Dimmesdale, and his use of her in the crucial scenes (the forest scene and the three pillory scenes) seem to justify an assumption that she is more than a passive link between her father and mother and more than a symbol of sin. As the most ambiguous character in this novel, she plays an important role more as a dynamic force than a static symbol in the plot. The purpose of this article is to present the aspects of Pearl‘s character, the functions that she performs in the plot, and the reasons why Pearl could achieve these in Hawthorne‘s romance.
2. PEARL: THE LIVING HIEROGLYPHIC
In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne tells us that Pearl is more than a link between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, and warns us that we shall have difficulties in understanding the plot unless we can interpret Pearl properly. ‗In [Pearl] was visible the tie that united them. She had been offered to the world, these seven years past, as the living hieroglyphic, in which was revealed the secret they so darkly sought to hide, — all
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written in this symbol, — all plainly manifest, — had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the character of flame!‘ (TSL 296)1
Certainly Hawthorne‘s reference to Pearl as a hieroglyphic suggests that this character of flame will be a challenge to decipher. On the one hand, Pearl is the symbol of her parents‘ sin because of her identity as the illegitimate child. Child of Hester and Dimmesdale, she serves as a ―messenger of anguish‖ (TSL 339). Just as Hester says, she is ―the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!‖ and ―the emblem of her guilt and torture‖ (TSL 204-205). On the other hand, she serves as ―the connecting link‖ (TSL 251) and ―an electric chain‖ (TSL 250) between Hester and Dimmesdale. That means she is the embodiment of her parents‘ true love and passion. Because the love between Hester and Dimmesdale is the oneness of their being, Hawthorne can therefore prophesy their salvation through his comment on Pearl: ‗And Pearl was the oneness of their being. Be the foregone evil what it might, how could they doubt that their earthly lives and future destinies were conjoined, when they beheld at once the material union, and the spiritual idea, in whom they met, and were to dwell immortally together?‘ (TSL 296)
Although she is a playful seven-year-old child, Pearl is precociously intelligent, bewilderingly subtle, frighteningly independent, and penetratingly wise. Her demonstrations of perversity toward social and religious authority, her acts of hostility toward the Puritan brats, her repeated demonstrations of...