The Symbolic Pearl in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1144 Words5 Pages
Pearls have always held a great price to mankind, but no pearl had ever been earned at as high a cost to a person as in Hester Prynne, a powerful Heroine in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. Her daughter Pearl, born into a Puritan prison in more ways than one, is an enigmatic character serving entirely as a vehicle for symbolism. From her introduction as an infant on her mother’s scaffold of shame to the stormy peak of the story, Pearl is an empathetic and intelligent child. Throughout the story she absorbs the hidden emotions of her mother and magnifies them for all to see. Pearl is the essence of literary symbolism. She is, at times, a vehicle for Hawthorne to express the inconsistent and translucent qualities of Hester and Dimmesdale’s unlawful bond, and at other times, a forceful reminder of her mother’s sin. Pearl Prynne is her mother’s most precious possession and her only reason to live, but Pearl also serves as a priceless treasure purchased with Hester’s life. Pearl’s strange beauty and deeply enigmatic qualities make her the most powerful symbol Hawthorne has ever created. The product of Hester’s sin and agony, Pearl, was a painfully constant reminder of her mother’s violation of the Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Hester herself felt that Pearl was given to her not only as a blessing but a punishment worse than death or ignominy. She is tormented by her daughter’s childish teasing and endless questioning about the scarlet letter and its relation to Minister Dimmesdale. After Pearl has created a letter “A” on her own breast out of seaweed, she asks her mother: But in good earnest, now, mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean? -- and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom? -- and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart? In saying this Pearl implies that she knows much, much more about the scarlet letter than she lets on. Throughout the conversation Pearl is impish and teasing, saying one thing and contradicting it soon after. She refuses to say just what she means, which makes it hard for Hester to give a straight answer. Hester is shocked that her playful daughter has lead their conversation to the topic of the scarlet letter, and even more disturbed that she has assumed Hester’s letter and Dimmesdale’s habit of pressing his hand to his heart a branch from the same issue.
Open Document