Pearl of The Scarlet Letter is an independent child,
gorgeously arrayed, who attracts the cruelty of Puritan children, the attention
of the governor as well as other town elders who wish to ensure her proper Christian
teaching, and the devoted love of her mother. Pearl is impetuous, difficult
to control, occasionally kind and loving, and always fascinated with the scarlet
"A" that covers her mother's breast. She intuitively knows there is a connection
between her mother and the minister, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, who always
holds his hand over his heart. Although considered to be symbolic of the adulterous
sin her parents committed, Pearl is in reality more an untamed child of nature.
With people and within the town or houses, she is an oddity, but within the
woods or by a stream, she is in her own, uncensoring element.
Pearl plays a part in the following 19 chapters of The Scarlet Letter:
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, and 24. She
plays a significant role in Chapter 6 - "Pearl;" Chapter 7 - "The Governor's
Hall;" Chapter 8 - "The Elf Child and the Minister;" Chapter 12 - "The Minister's
Vigil;" Chapter 15 - "Hester and Pearl;" Chapter 16 - "A Forest Walk;" Chapter
18 - "A Flood of Sunshine;" Chapter 19- "The Child at the Brook-Side;" and Chapter
23 - "The Revelation."
Pearl is initially introduced in The Scarlet Letter as a 3-month-old
baby leaving the prison with her mother Hester clasping her to her breast where
the letter A has been embroidered. Our first image of her shows her turning
away from the bright light of day because her life up until now has been in
dim light or darkness of the prison. Hawthorne perceives the baby both as the
offspring of a Virgin birth and as an offspring of dreadful sin. Finally Hester
equates the baby with the shame of her sin and realizes that both of them will
be the object of scrutiny of the townspeople.
In Chapter 3 - "The Recognition," no one can force
Hester to identify the father of her baby.
When Pearl initially meets Arthur Dimmesdale, she holds up her arms to him whereas when Roger Chillingworth spots her, she cries out in
pain. Neither man claims her, and Chillingworth uses her as he begins his quest to figure out with whom Hester sinned.
Back in prison with her mother, Pearl is in immense pain. It is suggested that nursing from her mother has caused to internalize Hester's
anguish and not nourishing sustenance. Roger Chillingworth, a healer, is summoned to see to the ailing babe and her mother who distrusts her
long-missing husband's intentions towards the child. Chillingworth is professional and quiets the bawling child.
While Hester dresses herself somberly and makes a living as a seamstress, she designs and sews elaborate, fantastic clothing for her little
Pearl. Townspeople and strangers alike will gawk at both the scarlet "A" on her breast and at her child.
All of chapter 6 focuses on Pearl as a baby and young child: her appearance, her dress, her interaction with other children as well as
her environment, and her connection with the scarlet letter. What follows is a series of questions, which can be answered from the
chapter, which is included in its entirety.
Why does Hester name her daughter Pearl? What is the great price Hester must pay and what does she fear about the child?
What is special about Pearl's physical appearance and her clothing? What is the passion contained within her personality?
How should Hester discipline this willful child, who is a spirit onto herself?
As Pearl grows up, will she connect with other children or forever be an outcast? Will an evilness in her nature control her interactions with
the Puritan children?
How does Pearl play within her natural environment outside their cottage home? How does her play mirror her observations of the adult and
How does Pearl react to the scarlet A embroidered on her mother's chest? How do Pearl and Hester talk about the scarlet letter and Pearl's
When Governor Bellingham and his cronies wish to remove the potentially demonic child Pearl from her mother Hester in order to save her soul
through religious tutoring which they feel is lacking at home, Hester visits the Governor's mansion determined to keep her child.
On their route to the governor's home, Pearl, a fickle embodiment of the scarlet letter both in dress and passions, ferociously repels the cruel
attack of taunting and mud slinging by the Puritan children.
The brighter but still selfish side of Pearl is shown as she delights in the day's glorious sunshine.
Pearl tortures her mother at the governor's stately mansion by insisting Hester suffer looking at the numerous reflections of the scarlet letter
in the shiny armor. The scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions.
The mercurial Pearl throws a temporary fit when denied a rose from the garden.
Governor Bellingworth argues that Pearl, who resembles an elf or a fairy in the minds of himself and his guests. should be taken from her mother,
clad in somber clothes, and instructed in religious truths. The governor is horrified at Pearl's sacrilegious answer when asked, "Who made thee?"
Two of his guests are integrally connected to Pearl and Hester's lives: the minister Arthur Dimmesdale and the physician Roger Chillingworth.
Hester passionately argues that she must be allowed to keep Pearl or else die. She explains that her daily shame will help her instruct the child
When Hester's appeal almost threatens Arthur Dimmesdale for his support,
he argues fervently for Hester to be able to keep the child.
Whimsically, Pearl shows rare affection to the Minister Dimmesdale, who shyly kisses her before she cavorts away. There is an undeniable
bond between the two.
Mistress Hibbons, the governor's sister purported to be a witch, bids Hester join her to see the "Black Man" in the forest. Hester, having
convinced the governor that she should keep Pearl, proudly refuses to accompany Mistress Hibbons.
While Roger Chillingworth and his patient Arthur Dimmesdale converse about the secret sins of men, they spy Hester in the cemetery with
Pearl merrily dancing on grave stones and then decorating her mother's bosom with burrs, one of which she tosses at Dimmesdale.
On the night when Arthur Dimmesdale does penance on the scaffold where Hester holding baby Pearl had stood accused of adultery, Dimmesdale
experiences a multitude of emotions. When the tortured minister laughs, his laughter is echoed by the elfish laughter of Pearl. Dimmesdale bids
Hester and Pearl to come onto the scaffold, where they link hands, and he is energized. However, when Pearl asks him to publicly hold mother and
child's hands on the scaffold in the daylight, he refuses but promised to do so at judgment day.
When Roger Chillingworth appears out of the dark, the terrified Dimmsdale panics and asks who he is. Pearl offers to reveal his identity.
In Chapter 14 - "Hester and the
Physician," Hester tells Chillingworth that she
intends to break her promise to him. Before Hester confronts the physician Roger
Chillingworth about the poor plight of Arthur Dimmesdale and her plans to tell
the minister of Chillingworth's true identity, she bids Pearl go play along
the bank of a stream.
Hester admits that she believes that the four of them: the physician, the minister, herself, and Pearl are trapped in a hopeless mess.
In Chapter 15 - "Hester and Pearl," Hester and
Pearl linger in the woods and Pearl
questions her mother.
Guiltily, Hester realizes that she hates her estranged husband. When Roger Chillingworth departs, she calls Pearl to her side. The child has been
playing with the playthings that nature provides and feels quilt when she maims a bird.
As always Pearl is fascinated, perhaps obsessed, with the scarlet "A" on her mother's bosom and so fashions a similar "A" made of green
seaweed upon herself.
Pearl shows off her sea-green "A" to her mother who questions her about the meaning of the scarlet "A".
Pearl answers readily that the scarlet A is on Hester's bosom for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart. Pearl now
asks Hester what does the A mean and why does the minister hold his hand over his heart.
Hester, surprised at the gentle seriousness of her daughter, begins to wonder if Pearl might now be able to be a companion to Hester. She
analyzes the strengths and deficits of Pearl's character. She gives Pearl a frivolous, false answer to her questions.
Hester has been false to the scarlet letter for the first time in her
life when she lies to her daughter. Pearl persists in asking about the connection
between the minister and her mother.
On the day Hester sets out with her constant companion Pearl to meet Arthur Dimmesdale so she can tell him the truth about Roger Chillingworth,
the forest gives them shelter from spying eyes and reflects their personalities.
The sunshine seems to favor Pearl and shun Hester.
Pearl questions her mother about the Black Man that she has heard tales
about and wonders if the man Hester is meeting in the Black Man. Later, she
ironically wonders if the Black Man put his mark upon the minister, causing
him to have his hand over his heart.
Hester requests that Pearl give her some privacy, so Pearl goes
to listen to the "unintelligible secret" of the stream, paralleling the secret
about her mother and the minister who arrives, "haggard and feeble" but lacking
his usual look of suffering. The forest is already healing them and giving
each of them a space to breathe freely.
In the forest as Hester and Dimmedale resolve to flee the taint of their
sin of adultery and as the sunshine temporarily shines upon them, Hester
removes her scarlet letter and tosses it toward the stream while she lets
her hair cascade down her back. Eagerly, she tells her former lover that
he must come to know and love Pearl. He is uncertain of his reception with
the child whom he fears.
At the same time, Pearl finds companionship in the woods and plays
Seeing Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl's pace becomes hesitant.
Their love rekindled, Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale watch Pearl, the "visible
tie that united them." Hester warns Pearl's unacknowledged father to be
calm while Dimmesdale admits he is fearful of this child and eager and fearful
for this interview.
As Pearl is mirrored in the brook, Hester feels a distinct separateness
from the child who has been her constant companion.
Pearl, seeing that her mother has changed, remains apart from the
couple while Hester urges her daughter to come and know the man who
will be her new friend and will love her.
Pearl insistently demands that her mother pick up the flung away
scarlet letter and return it to its proper place on her chest.
The minister begs Hester to pacify the child and give in to her demands.
Pearl, victorious, rewards her mother with tenderness and kisses
for herself and the scarlet letter. However when the minister kisses
her, she races back to stream sanctuary and washes it off. After all,
he will not go back to town hand in hand with his daughter and her mother.
In Chapter 21 - "The New England Holiday,"
Hester and Pearl observe a town holiday.
During the holiday to celebrate the new governor taking his office,
Pearl and Hester join the townspeople, Indians, sailors, and other visitors
in the market place. Pearl's dress captures the brilliancy of nature
while her mood is in "sympathy in the agitations" of her mother soon
to flee this judgmental community.
A curious child, Pearl questions the holiday behavior of people and
the friendliness of their former jailer.
Pearl asks if the minister will be present and if he will join hands
with them before she gives an astute description of his isolated loneliness.
After the much beloved Arthur Dimmesdale gives a memorable sermon, the
crowd is stunned as he beckons Hester and Pearl to join him on the scaffold.
The minister's physical presence is weak but his spiritual essence is strong.
The desperately shaken Roger Chillingworth vainly attempts to stop
Dimmesdale, but Pearl embraces him as Hester slowly joins him.
The frenzied crowd watches the pageant play out.
Even in his determination, Dimmesdale asks Hester if this public unmasking
is better than their fleeing to a safe haven in England.
Does the minister reveal their secret or not?
Dimmesdale asks Pearl to kiss him, and the child kisses him and weeps
upon her father, giving her hope of future that won't be a constant battle.
Hester Prynne plays a major role in The Scarlet Letter, appearing in all
but a few chapters. Her struggles with the demands placed upon her by her own
conscience, her role as a mother, her culture, and her heart allow Hawthorne to
develop a multi-faceted character, one whose own nature reflects many of the meanings
that come to be associated with the scarlet letter A. Her absence from chapters
9, 10, and 11 adds to their darkness as Hawthorne focuses on the relationship
and tensions between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. By the end of the novel, Hester
has endured pain and loss, but returns to the Puritan settlement in New England
where the narrator claims "there was a more real life for her" than in the old
England to which she had retreated after Dimmesdale's death.
In Chapter 2, before he introduces Hester Prynne and her plight, Hawthorne
describes the women of this Puritan settlement, emphasizing
their rigidity and hard-heartedness, to emphasize Hester's difference from them.
Hawthorne then introduces Hester Prynne, describing her
appearance and the striking boldness of the scarlet letter A that she has
embroidered on the bosom of her dress.
Alone upon the scaffold, Hester must endure public
exposure and the scrutiny of the entire community as part of the punishment
meted out for her sin of adultery.
In Chapter 3, Hester recognizes her husband, who
now goes by the name of Roger Chillingworth standing amid the crowd of onlookers.
While she continues to stand upon the scaffold, Hester is addressed first
by the chief clergyman, the Reverend John Wilson, and then by the Reverend Arthur
Dimmesdale, who asks her to name her partner in adultery,
which Hester refuses to do.
In an unexpected moment of resistance, Hester openly
refuses Wilson's demand that she speak the name of her child's father
Once she has returned to her jail cell in Chapter 4, Hester receives a visit
from Roger Chillingworth, who offers a sleeping potion to calm Pearl and
While Hester and Chillingworth converse, he asks her to reveal her partner's
name. When she refuses, Chillingworth asks that she keep the
secret of his identity as well, placing another burden upon Hester.
Hawthorne explores the reasons why Hester remains at
the margins of the Puritan settlement, when she is free to leave if she
Although she has few resources, Hester supports herself and her child through
the embroidery that she does. Hawthorne places Hester
in the role of an artist through the creativity she exercises with her needle.
The community values the needlework Hester does, but Hester feels that she
remains an outsider and senses constant reminders
of the punishment she has incurred for her sin.
In Chapter 6, Hawthorne describes Hester's attitudes
toward rearing her child and indicates that she questions her child's nature.
In Chapter 7, Hester seeks an interview with Governor Bellingham because she
has heard rumors that some members of the community
wish to remove Pearl from her care.
The interview takes place in Chapter 8, during
which Hester speaks not only before Bellingham, but also to Wilson, Chillingworth,
Seven years have passed when Hawthorne explores the changes in Hester's character
in Chapter 13. The narrator comments on her changed position
within the community and the ways people have come to think of her.
The narrator also explores Hester's inner nature,
suggesting that here change has not occurred, at least not the change that the
community had expected.
Shocked by the condition of Dimmesdale during their encounter on the scaffold,
Hester wonders whether she has failed him in some way
by not protecting him from Chillingworth.
She also faces questioning from Pearl about the
scarlet letter, lying to her daughter about the reasons she wears it.
In Chapter 17, Hester encounters Arthur Dimmesdale on a woodland. path as
he returns from a visit to the minister John Eliot. Hester and Dimmesdale have
a sustained conversation in which they admit their
lack of inner peace. During this conversation, Hester confesses the true identity
of Roger Chillingworth and blames herself for not telling him sooner. She begs
Dimmesdale forgiveness, which he grants.
During the intimacy of this meeting, Hester and Dimmesdale confess that they
have not forgotten what they were to each other. Dimmesdale asks Hester to use
her strength to support him, and she encourages him to consider the possibility
that they can escape together without being discovered.
Having contemplated the possibility of escape, Hester removes
the scarlet letter in Chapter 18. Freed from its weight and restraint, she
uncovers her hair, revealing her beauty that had been hidden under the burdens
that she carried.
Believing that she and Dimmesdale have been freed from the constraints their
secrets have imposed upon them, Hester wants him to meet Pearl as his child.
But Pearl's reaction when she approaches them forces Hester to
reassume the scarlet letter, and with it weight of fatefulness that accompanies
After her encounter with Dimmesdale, Hester contemplates the possibilities
of freedom as the community begins its Election Day celebrations in Chapter
Her feelings about the possibility of freedom are cut short, however, when
Hester learns that Roger Chillingworth has arranged passage
on the same ship that she had hoped to use for her and Dimmesdale's escape.
In Chapter 22, Hester watches the Election Day processional,
looking for a sign of acknowledgement from Dimmesdale. While doing so, she has
a brief encounter with Mistress Hibbens, a woman suspected of witchcraft, who
says unsettling things to Hester.
Hester is further unsettled by the news that Chillingworth plans to accompany
Dimmesdale on the sea voyage, feeling that an "inevitable
doom" overhangs her plans. She also faces the gaze of many who have not
seen the scarlet letter before, reminding her of a never ending scrutiny to
which she must submit.
When Dimmesdale verges on collapse upon the scaffold in Chapter 23, Hester
moves toward him to answer his call for her strength to support him. Hester
is once again drawn into the center of public attention
as the gathered crowds speculate about the meaning of the minister's words and
Having supported the dying Dimmesdale during his speech before the community,
Hester expresses her hope that they might meet in the
hereafter, but Dimmesdale believes their sin has been to great to hold out
Years after the final events on the scaffold, Hester
returns to her cottage, choosing voluntarily to live on the outskirts of
the community and offering consolation to those who suffer turmoil of the heart
as had she. Hawthorne claims that in Hester's day the world was not ready for
a woman of independent thought and spirit, but that Hester held out hope that
"a new truth would be revealed" that would reorder relations between men and