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Symbols and Symbolism in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter - The Symbol of Pearl

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The Symbol of Pearl

 In Nathaniel Hawthorne's, The Scarlet Letter, Pearl, is the human symbol of the sin of adultery in the fact that she leads her mother, Hester Prynne, and Arthur Dimmesdale to accept and admit to their sin. Pearl is the beautiful daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale. She is the living symbol of the scarlet letter and has unique traits that make her sometimes appear as a demon. Her love for nature and freedom, her spirit, her wildness, her loneliness and separation from the world, her curiosity, and her innocent but symbolic comments reveal her distinct personality. Pearl senses and knows things she should not, making her a symbol. Pearl is also the living symbol of Hester and Dimmesdale's connection, as displayed in the following passage.

 

"In her 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 written in this symbol, -- all plainly manifest, -- had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the character of flame! And Pearl was the oneness of their being"(Hawthorne 141). Pearl is a beautiful, misbehaved child. The first thing that Pearl ever notices is her mother's 'A' across her chest. As a child, Pearl throws rocks at the scarlet letter, making a game out it. Growing up, Pearl is not accepted by anyone. She screams at other children, knowing that they do not accept her. Not knowing what a true friend is, she makes imaginary enemies to fight with. In The Scarlet Letter, Pearl is referred to as "one of those naughty elfs or fairies or...a little bird of scarlet plumage" (Hawthorne 97). The comparison of Pearl to an elf or fairies adds a sense of alienation and mystery to her personality. When she is compared to a red bird, the emphasis of color increases the visual sense of Pearl's character, and the comparison to a bird indicates that she is full of wild energy. (Chiquita)

 

Initially Pearl symbolizes the shame of Hester's public punishment for adultery. Then as Pearl grew older, she symbolizes the wreck of Hester's life and mental state by harassing her mother over the scarlet 'A' which is embroidered on her dress (Yang). Pearl is a symbol for Hester's scarlet letter. Pearl tries to make Hester accept her sin. She also makes her mother wear the scarlet letter and will not take it off for the wrong reason. Pearl does not want her mother to run away from her sin but to face up to it, so when Hester tries to run away from her sin, this is when Pearl gets stubborn. Hawthorne shows that Pearl represents the scarlet letter not only symbolically but literally as well. Hester says that Pearl is the living scarlet letter, and causes Hester more anguish than the scarlet letter itself (Schwall). Pearl simply wants her mom to realize that she is not the worst person in the world. Hester views herself as the worst sinner and Pearl can sense this. When the government wants to take Pearl away from Hester, a reason she is allowed to keep her is because Dimmesdale explains to the governor that Pearl is a constant reminder of Hester's sin. This is true. Pearl especially makes her mom feel grief when she is stubborn. Pearl will never let her mother forget about the 'A', neither will Hester ever be able to look at Pearl and not think about how she was conceived with the act passionate adultery.

 

In the scene in the woods, there is the sun shining. Pearl runs and grabs it. After Pearl grabs it, Hester tries but then sun goes away. Pearl then says that the sunshine does not love Hester. Throughout this scene, the sunshine symbolizes happiness. Hester will never be able to grasp happiness. Pearl is telling her that happiness does not love Hester.

 

Pearl is equally a symbol for Dimmesdale. In Pearl's eyes, until Dimmesdale acts like her father she will not accept him in her life. In order to act like a father, Dimmesdale must accept his sin and come open to the public. "'But wilt thou promise,' asked Pearl,' to take my hand and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide?'"(Hawthorne 105). In this quote Pearl is asking Dimmesdale to stand with them, and come open to the public. "'Doth he love us?' said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mothers face. 'Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into town?'"(Hawthorne 145). Pearl is again implying that she wants Dimmesdale to come out in the open with his love and sin.

 

In the end, he bravely stands on the scaffold, and publically confesses his sin in the light of day. The confession finally gives him a sense of peace. Pearl is transformed at the end of the novel when Dimmesdale stands with her on the scaffold and makes his confession. It is obvious that the child has longed for his love and acceptance in the open public. When he asks her for a kiss this time, she willingly gives it. Her sense of human identity is established in her acceptance of Dimmesdale's paternity. As a result, she cries with real human emotion for the first time in the book, foreshadowing that her past is put away and she will be able to live a normal life in the future.

 

"Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it"(Hawthorne 233).

 

In The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Pearl symbolizes Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale's connection in more ways than one. Pearl is truly the human symbol for the sin of adultery. Not only is she a symbol for Hester, but for Dimmesdale also. More importantly Pearl leads Hester and Dimmesdale to accept their sin.

 

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