Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay

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The child also sometimes behaves as if she is possessed. Perhaps this is because she is being raised as a "little adult" by her mother. As an only child, she often seems much older than her real age, and this can also seem like she is possessed by an adult to the people around her. These actions frighten both her mother and the townspeople, creating the idea that she is somehow dark and terrifying in their minds. Other critics have also confirmed Pearl's darker side, noting that Hawthorne uses her as a symbol of the darker, devilish spirit the townspeople fear. Critic Alfred Reid writes, "The character of Pearl likewise exemplifies Hawthorne's tendency to allegorize spiritual phenomena" (Reid 117). Like most people, they see what they see and make it into something they want to believe. Pearl is different, and so she must be evil. It is clear she is not really evil, but she is frightening, at least to some, and that leads to even more ostracizing by the townspeople. So again, Pearl is affected by her mother's sin, and has to pay the price of the people ignoring her and having no friends or acquaintances.

All of the themes surrounding Pearl's character show she is caught in the middle between many undercurrents that she cannot possibly understand. She does not know how to act "normally," because she has no friends or anyone else to tell her what is wrong in society. She has no friends, no father, and no other advice from outside the cottage where they live. Her father will not even acknowledge that she is his child. When he finally does acknowledge her, he then promptly dies, leaving her even more alone and confused. She never gets to experience the joy of a loving father, and her mother is so often upset or depressed it was difficult or impossible Pearl to know how to act like other children around her. And so, she becomes a child of the devil, or an "elf-child" as Hawthorne sometimes names her.

Another aspect of Pearl and her character is extremely important, and that is that she is allowed to stay with her mother throughout the book. Critic Reid feels Hawthorne does this not only to symbolize her mother's sin, but to show the two united against the town that ostracizes them. He writes, "Hawthorne has Hester keep her baby with her throughout the punishment for its symbolical import. With the 'winking baby in her arms' and the ignominious scarlet letter sewed to her bosom, she walks through the marketplace" (Reid 15). Thus, Pearl inadvertently becomes a symbol of Hester's parenting skills, and how she was a good woman who eventually raised a good daughter, despite many difficulties. Hawthorne uses Pearl, an innocent child, to illustrate just how intolerant and unfair the Puritans really were, and her innocence and simplicity is all the more in contrast to their duplicity and hatefulness. It also shows how the sins of the parent seem to always have a way of affecting the child.

In conclusion, Pearl is one of the central characters is "The Scarlet Letter," and she plays a vital role, that of hope and innocence. She is the innocent child that is made to pay for her mother's sin. She also is sometimes a little "devil," symbolizing her tie to sin and sinners, and she also shows just how intolerant the Puritan were in their religion and their culture. They would not even accept an innocent child; instead they shunned her simply by association. She seems like a sad character because she is so affected by the sins that created her. She cannot escape her mother's sin, but she can overcome it. Pearl grows up to be a reasonably normal young woman who lives a normal life and marries in England. However, her life symbolizes both sin and hope. She is consistently battered as a child by the controversy surrounding her mother, but she is also a symbol of love and hope, showing that even the most difficult childhood can turn out all right in the end.


Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. London J.M. Dent, 1906.

Reid, Alfred S. The Yellow Ruff & the Scarlet Letter: A Source…[continue]

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