Pearl Highlights Hypocrisy in the Scarlet Letter
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Pearl undergoes a dramatic transformation from a devilish infant to a sagely child. Born into a society full of judgment and hypocrisy, Pearl, a bastard child, is unable to escape her predetermined role. Pearl lacks a traditional family; her mother is the sole provider, a direct attack on Puritan standards designating this young family as outsiders. Furthermore, Pearl, unlike her peers, establishes a reputation for being strange because she does not adhere to conventional norms. Despite her apparent shortcomings, Pearl is more perceptive and compassionate than members of her community. Predestined by stringent, oppressive Puritan standards, Pearl is outwardly viewed as wicked, but, in truth, is wiser than her years and more merciful than her own minister father. The narrator presents the society’s perception of Pearl as evil. Pearl’s personality is robust, and the narrator acknowledges her strange, impish tendencies while she sits with her mother. The narrator details her certain wildness, “Whether moved only by her ordinary freakishness, or because an evil spirit prompted her, she put up her small forefinger and touched the scarlet letter” (88). Pearl is defined by her “ordinary freakishness” because she was born out of wedlock in a Puritan community, hence, her normal state of being is automatically perceived as sinister. Hawthorne uses an oxymoron to further the notion that Pearl’s customary behavior is oozing with sin. Denoted by the adulteress actions of her parents, the narrator captures community sentiment of Pearl as inherently demonic, likely possessed by an “evil spirit.” Though only an infant and presumably free of earthly sin, Pearl’s intuition directs her “small forefinger” to touch the scarlet letter, a symbol of shame and ignominy. Rather than assessing Pearl’s behavior as childish and ignorant, again the narrator reinforces the consensus of the townspeople,...
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