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Liberation from Sin through Pearl in The Scarlet Letter

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Liberation from Sin through Pearl in The Scarlet Letter

'This child ... hath come from the hand of God, to work in many ways upon her heart ... It was meant for a blessing, for the one blessing of her life! It was meant, doubtless ... for a retribution too; a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of moment; a pang, as sting, an ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joy!" (Hawthorne 105)

This, as Arthur Dimmesdale almost prophetically expresses in the early scenes of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, was the role of Pearl, the elfish child borne of his and Hester Prynne's guilty passion. Like Paul's thorn in the flesh, Pearl would bring trouble, heartache, and frustration to Hester, but serve a constructive purpose lying far beyond the daily provocations of her childish impishness. While in many respects a tormentor to Hester, Pearl was also her savior, while a reminder of her guilt, a promoter of honesty and true Virtue; and while an embodiment of Hester's worst qualities, a vision of a better life for Hester and for herself.

From the very beginning of The Scarlet Letter, while Hester is shamed by having a baby as tangible evidence of her sin and shame, the responsibility of caring for Pearl and raising her with love and wisdom serves to calm the defiant, destructive passion of Hester's nature and to save her from its wild, desperate promptings. This sentiment is poignantly portrayed in Hester's visit to the Governor's mansion. While there, she pleads with the Governor, magistrates, and ministers that she be allowed to keep Pearl, exclaiming, 'She is my happiness!--She is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only...

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...er to overcome the passion, once so wild that had brought her to ruin and shame." (Hawthorne, 165) It was Hester's motherly sentiments to nurture and love her child that saved her from temptation and from death and opened her heart to the poor and needy around her. It was the torturous fixation of her child upon her shame that tempered and refined her character and led her toward the precious virtue of being true to herself and others. And it was the reflection of her own character, even at Its worst, in her child that brought Hester to a greater understanding of herself and a desire to build a better life for Pearl. Pearl was more than merely her mother's tormentor--she was her blessing, her life, and the giver of the freedom to live a life true to herself and to her God.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.
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