The Scarlet Letter



Pearl may be the most complicated character in the entire novel. As a fatherless child, she has grown up with the scorn of the community. However, rather than causing her distress, this status has helped shape Pearl’s personality, and she continuously reveals herself to be above concern about societal norms and standards. Instead of worrying about pleasing society as a whole, she is intently focused on the dynamics of her family, particularly between her and her mother, but also with Dimmesdale, who she knows is her father before her parents ever reveal that to her.

It is important to realize that Pearl is not meant to portray a child of her age. Hawthorne intentionally has her act beyond her age, because Pearl is a symbolic character, not a realistic character. She is the living evidence of Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin. However, she is also the living symbol of an act of love; while Dimmesdale does not do right by Hester when she becomes pregnant and gives birth to Pearl, there is no reason to believe that their feelings for one another were inauthentic.

When the audience first meets Pearl, she is an infant. As an infant, she does not have any significant action in the scene. This is an important introduction to Pearl, because it introduces the reader to the idea of Pearl as a symbol. She is the tangible evidence of Hester and Dimmesdale’s affair. Without Pearl, Hester may not have suffered from public shaming, as it seems unlikely that the community would have learned of her affair with Dimmesdale. This causes the reader to wonder what role Pearl will play in the story. The reader wonders whether Hester be resentful of Pearl and, because of this resentment, allow herself to become bitter and hateful. Will Hester use the child as a means of controlling the lover whom the reader has yet to meet? Questions such as this are the natural result of Pearl’s symbolic status. However, despite the fact that Pearl does not conform to societal ideals, thereby increasing the pressure on Hester, Hester does not turn away from her daughter.


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