Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter By Hawthorne

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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She’s Worth More Than a Diamond 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 at times, and at others a forceful reminder of her
mother’s sin. Pearl Prynne is her mother’s most precious possession and her
only reason to live, but also serves as a priceless treasure purchased with her
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 it’s 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. Pearl, in
bringing this forbidden and painful subject about, unwittingly inflicts agony
upon her uhappy mother. Hester cannot tell her daughter what has passed between
the minister and herself and come clean. Pearl symbolizes a hidden part of her
mother that has not, and will never be exposed and therefore washed free of sin.
Pearl was always drawn to the ”A”, and seemed to twist the symbolic knife in
Hester’s bosom every time she thought she was free of her burden of sin by
rudely reminding her of the letter and the meaning it bore. Pearl’s
questioning wrenched Hester’s heart when the child seemed to somehow know
about the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale. Pearl’s precocity
worried Hester constantly. Hester Prynne herself realized that Pearl was unlike
other children, and prayed that she was not sin incarnate. When Hester finally
freed herself of her sin and removed the scarlet letter after years of it’s
leaden weight on her chest, it was little Pearl who brought the reality of her
eternal condemnation back to Hester with a stinging blow. She was “the scarlet
letter endowed with life”. Pearl represented the part of Hester to be always
dulled by the searing judgment of others in that she was Hester’s ceaseless
reminder of the sin she had committed, but also symbolized everything about
Hester that was free and alive. Pearl is the only happiness in Hester Prynne’s
lonely life. Without a child to care for, teach, and love, Hester would have
long ago given her soul and life over to evil. When town authorities, shocked at
Pearl’s apparent belief that she was plucked from a rose bush and not created
by God, recommend she be taken from Hester and placed in a school, Hester
responds with the following: “God gave me this child!... She is my happiness,
she is my torture none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life!...Ye shall not
take her! I will die first!” Pearl, though Hester understands that she was
God-given as a constant reminder or her sin, is her only requited love and a
friend that does not judge her by things past. Later, Hester comments that she
would have “signed my name in the Black Man’s book too, and that with mine
own blood!” if they had taken Pearl from her. Her daughter is her only earthly
salvation, as well as her only friend. Pearl is a blessing upon Hester in that
her light-heartedness and seeming innocence allow her mother to forget about her
troubles and (to use a Calvin Klein clichй) simply BE. To see Pearl
playing on the beach and creating a fascinating world of her own is to allow
Hester to momentarily throw off the shackles imposed on her by Puritan society
and be truly happy. Another important symbol that makes up Pearl is her
significance as Hester’s only tie to Minister Dimmesdale, her partner in
adultery. Pearl is imbued with an unearthly knowledge about the bond between her
mother and the Minister. While this, in itself, frightens Hester, Pearl is all
that she has of Dimmesdale and she treasures the girl for that. She is the one
who repeatedly demands that he hold hands with Hester and herself in public and
recognize them. Of course, this is the only thing that Dimmesdale can do to save
himself from the misery of guilt, which only goes further to show that Pearl
symbolizes the deep nexus between Hester and the Minister. The Scarlet Letter is
overflowing with masterfully wrought symbolism and representation, but Pearl
Prynne is the purest and deepest symbol in the story. She was born not only out
of utter sin, but out of the deepest and most absolute love imaginable. She
serves as a messenger of God’s salvation through pain, and as a symbol of all
that is blessed and content in Hester Prynne’s life. In the end, it is Pearl
who kisses Arthur Dimmesdale as he lies dying on the scaffold, having admitted
his sin. She breaks a spell that had lain over the dyad in adultery and herself
- the product of their sin - , completing her service as a symbol of pain and
hardship, but more importantly a symbol of love, salvation, and the deep bond
between two lovers condemned by the strict decorum of the Puritan days.
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