A Character Analysis of Pearl in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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A Character Analysis of Pearl in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Word Count Includes Outline at the End of the Paper

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a book of much symbolism. One of the most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book is Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Throughout the novel Pearl develops into a dynamic symbol; one that is always changing. In the following essay, I will explore Hawthorne's symbolism of Pearl from birth, age three, and age seven. Also, I will attempt to disprove the notion that Pearl is branded with a metaphorical scarlet letter "A" representing amorality; instead she represents the immorality of her mother's adultery.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, for her sins, received a scarlet letter "A" which she had to wear upon the "breast of her gown"(Hawthorne 39). It was the Puritan way of treating her as a criminal for the crime of adultery. The Puritan treatment of Hester did not stop simply with the assignment of the letter. As she walked through the streets, she was looked down upon as if she were some sort of evil spirit among them, being punished for some ghastly crime. This gave Hester much mental anguish and grief. On the other hand, God's treatment of Hester for her sin was quite different than the scarlet letter. He gave Hester the punishment of rearing a very unique child whom she named Pearl. "But she named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price, --purchased with all she had, --her mother's only treasure!"(Hawthorne, 62). Hester named her daughter Pearl because she had to give up everything, including freedom, for her. This punishment handed down from God was a constant mental and physical reminder to Hester of what she had done wrong. There was no escaping it. In this aspect, Pearl symbolized God's way of punishing Hester for the sin of adultery.

Even when she was just a baby, "her infant's eyes had been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about the letter" (Hawthorne 67). From birth, Pearl seemed to be attracted to the scarlet letter "A" that clung to her mother's chest. In one specific incident when Pearl was a baby she reached up smiling to touch the scarlet letter on Hester's dress as she stooped over her cradle. This gesture by the baby mortified Hester because of Pearl's innocent recognition of the underl...

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...final note, Pearl was more than her mother's only treasure or sometimes headache; she was her mother's only source of survival.

Thesis: In the following essay, I will explore Hawthorne's symbolism of Pearl from birth, age three, and age seven.

I. Describe the basic foundation for the novel

A. Hester received the scarlet letter

B. Punishment by the Puritans

C. Punishment by God

II. Pearl at birth

A. Pearl's attraction to the letter

B. Hester's shame of the letter

C. Hester's realization of Pearl's odd expression

III. Pearl at age three

A. Same attraction to the letter

B. Pearl associated the letter with a game

C. Reappearance of Pearl's odd expression

IV. Pearl at age seven

A. Bolder acts towards the letter

B. Pearl's association of Dimmesdale with the letter

C. Pearl's association with the letter

V. Conclusion

A. Pearl's sources of symbolism

B. Pearl as the scarlet letter

C. Pearl as her mother's source of survival

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel., et al., eds. The Scarlet Letter. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1988.
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