Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter silhouettes the human experience as being intricately woven with equal parts loving bliss and guilty anguish. He describes, from different characters’ perspectives, that only through one does the other have meaning. That living is a sensation fully encountered exclusively from naked emotion which is tended toward, the liberty to articulate those truths, and solidarity. Pearl becomes the embodiment of the former, who is described from the very beginning as an unearthly “creature”, the second by Arthur Dimmesdale, slowly killed by his secret sin, and the latter by both as they discover the lawless triumph of pleasure and pain. Over the course of the novel’s seven years the collective force of feeling, expression, and integration layer to define living and what it means to be human.
Pearl lacks life. She is called an “infant immortality” (p. 82) by her own mother, “…a being capable of eternal joy or sorrow…” (p. 101) With both emotions in endless capacity, she seems entirely human upon first inspection—almost the very essence of what it means to be mortal if being mortal is to feel. But with further thought, infinite opposite feeling would negate itself, and having both joy and sorrow without moderation would offer no perspective and give no meaning to either. Yet still Pearl puts forth uncharacteristically sensitive demonstrations with the occasional intuitively timed comment to her father, Dimmesdale, such as when they three—he, Hester, and Pearl—stood together on the scaffold and Pearl asks if he will, “…take my hand, and mother’s hand…” (p. 134) In this she displays an awareness of her mother’s own affection and desire to be more readil...
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...seemed a tumultuous rush of new life.” (p. 134) By the end of the novel, Hawthorne has developed a clear progression from inhumanity to humanity in Pearl, and in Dimmesdale a transcendence from dying “…daily a living death.” (p. 149) Both characters emphasize the final element necessary to living and the importance of companionship.
Though the difference between life and death may, at first glance, seem clearly defined, the nuanced greys of love distinguish the quality of life for sinners and the products of “unlawful” passion in the heart of puritanical Boston in the 19th century as was the case for the likes of Arthur Dimmesdale and Pearl. The two combined lack feeling, expression, and empathy, and as a result neither are able to know the full color of the human experience. It is only when each experience their own burst of sunshine that their spells are broken.
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