- that little creature, whose innocent
- This chapter describes Pearl in detail. She is at this time an
infant, but by the end of the chapter she talks. She is a
"creature," that is to say she has been created (it does
not mean that she is an animal). Her innocence as a baby is
contrasted to the "rank luxuriance of a guilty passion,"
which as lived by Hester was the cause of her creation.
(However, the Puritans believed in original sin and so babies
could not be said to be innocent of that sin.) Some of the
details of childrearing no doubt reflect Hawthorne's own
perspective from the Victorian period rather than the Puritan,
as it is clear that much of the description is drawn from his
notes on his own daughter, Una, who was six years old at the
time of the writing of this book.
- a lovely and immortal flower sl06.html#g01
- The author uses metaphors of flowers throughout. Not
only is a flower beautiful, but it is mortal, it dies,
just as beauty fades.
- Again, sunshine is a metaphor, but this time it is the light
that a sharp mind sends out to illuminate the world.
- Pearl of great price sl06.html#g01
- Reference to the Bible, Matt 13:45-46. The story is of
a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one
pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought
it. So is the kingdom of heaven like that.
- The author contrasts the two significant characters on
Hester's bosom: the beautiful child Pearl, and the scarlet
letter. The first might draw Hester closer to society, just
as the second repels society.
- Since she had committed a sin, Hester was afraid that the
product of the sin, the child Pearl, might also be sinful or bad.
- guiltiness sl06.html#g01
- It seems to exaggerate to say that Hester owed her whole being
to her guiltiness. However, at this point her guilt had taken
over her life and wearing the scarlet letter dominated her
identity. (Her life had been spared because her husband was
missing at sea, but a condition of that sentence was that
she wear the letter for the rest of her life.)
She looks to the child for some correspondence, and
of course those who look shall find. Since there seemed no
logical reason for the chance similarity, the suspicion of
supernatural power of course arises. Hester was alone here,
adrift in emotional thinking. Apparently the Puritans had no
- In Eden, of course, the child would have had no original
sin. But the author goes further, in pointing out that Pearl
was not guilty of the sin of adultery that her parents committed.
The reference also reminds us of the theme of the Garden of Eden
that has persisted in recent chapters. While Eve presumably
was graceful and beautiful enough to be a sex symbol, it
is only implicitly that Hester is so, while Pearl is explicitly
so described. Perhaps we can remember Hawthorne's fatherless
childhood and imagine that he would have liked to let everyone
know that he was not guilty of his father's death, and he too
was considered graceful and beautiful as a child--at least
by his mother.
- existence sl06.html#g03
- Nevertheless, Pearl's beauty has to be strange, because her
very existence is not congruent with the truth. Her strange
behavior conflicts with her physical appearance, which also is odd.
The speculation that there must be a disorder or strange order to
her physical parts suggests a theory that sin could be read on
a person's face or by certain physical abnormalities, such as
the extra nipples that witches were supposed by the Puritans
to require to feed their familiars (little imps or devils or animals).
Hawthorne does seem to be going far, though, since every father
must look into his daughter's face and wonder about her future
(while no doubt checking to make sure he really is the father).
- Scriptural authority sl06.html#g04
- ("Spare the rod and spoil the child" is a reference to the
13:24). Of course, Hawthorne is referring here to what he perceived as the
change in childhood education in his time, not in ours as compared
to the Puritans. Hawthorne is reminding us that the Puritans considered
children to be infected with original sin. (And no doubt as a father himself,
and as one who early lost his own father, he ascribes Pearl's
misbehavior to her lack of a father or Father.) The Romantic writer Rousseau in
his works such as Emile had a great effect in encouraging
kinder treatment of children, and Hawthorne's
sister-in-law Elizabeth Palmer Peabody started kindergartens in the
United States, though Hawthorne's own children were mostly taught at home.
Henry David Thoreau as a schoolteacher in Concord quit after
using the rod, so the reduction in what would today be considered
child abuse was not perhaps as significant as indicated here, but was still
ongoing. For a more balanced, modern view of Puritan child upbringing
that suggests it was not so different from today's life, see
A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony,
by John Demos, paperback (June 1971), Oxford Univ Press; ISBN: 0195013557.
(Demos makes the point, however, that Plymouth children by age 6 or 7 would be
treated as adults, while Hawthorne doesn't seem to recognize that this would
have been true of Pearl at the same time in the story. Many critics have noted that
Hawthorne's description of Pearl seems to be based on his own observations of
his first daughter, Una, born in 1844.)
In general, Hawthorne's depiction of stern Puritans in this novel seems
to have prevailed until Harvard professor Perry Miller reversed it in the 1930s.
It may be that the 1995 Hollywood movie of this book, along with the attention
paid to the witchcraft trials because of political reasons, has slanted the bias
against Puritans backwards, even harsher than Hawthorne's, but only because of
our current social preoccupations, not because of better historical evidence.
- infant immortality
- Puritan parents not only had to be parents of the living
child, but also guardians of their immortal souls and bring
them up so they would voluntarily accept Christ and join the
- infantile sl06.html#g06
- That is, among the other small children (Pearl by this
paragraph is apparently older than an infant). It is not
clear whether Pearl has been christened or why not--the
next chapter does not make that clear, but we can assume
that the ministers would have brought it up if not. If
so, then Hawthorne is only pointing out that Pearl is not
accepted by the other Christian children the way their
religion is supposed to teach.
- "Imp" also seems to exaggerate. Her appearance
is not that of an evil animal--it would only be that she is
able to transform her face into an angry, threatening one
when she wishes to chase away her tormentors. And the other
behavior described of Pearl's playing alone might seem strange
to an adult, who has forgotten his own imaginative play-acting,
and here is described as strange mainly to reflect Hester's
thinking and to suggest other interpretations to follow. One
that is obvious is that in play Pearl attempts to dominate
others that she cannot do in real life.
- scourging Quakers sl06.html#g06
- Since the Quakers had not entered New England by
this time, it seems anachronous to suggest this play,
but Hawthorne as usual rearranges history for his
- Also, it would be wrong to blame the Puritans for
initiating the practice of cutting off the scalps or
hair of war victims. Later, they did use scalps as
a way of proving they had killed Indians, in order to
claim a reward. But Native American warfare was ritualized
in ways that the Puritans did not comprehend--in order to
avoid having to kill the other side, they sometimes agreed
that simply touching ("coup") would count as
defeating the enemy, for example. In any case, this play
is by boys and so girls such as Pearl would not look with
favor on it.
- the northern lights sl06.html#g08
- Northern lights are the aurora borealis, large and
fast-moving colors in the night sky seen mostly in polar
regions but sometimes in New England. Now we know they
are natural electrical effects in the atmosphere generated by
solar flares, but at the time they were mysterious and
supernatural. The metaphor anticipates the scaffold scene
- sowing broadcast the
- Greek myth of Cadmus. See
"The Dragon's Teeth" in
Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales of 1853.
- Hester is thinking of how difficult it will be
for Pearl to make her own way in life, given her
- dropped her work
- Dropping her needlework is an obvious metaphor
for worry interrupting her everyday life.
- fancied that she saw
- Of course, this is specifically labeled "fancy."
Even if not, the author seems to give a strange credence to
Hester's crazy belief that a fiend's face, not her own,
was reflected there. Some of this must come from Hester
instead of being attributed to Pearl's powers.
- elfish or elvish?..... sl06.html#g11, sl06.html#g24
- We follow the various spellings in the first edition, but the
authoritative Centenary Edition [Ce0162] regularizes all to the spelling
"elfish". Note that if Pearl did not have a heavenly
Father then perhaps her father was the Devil. Looking closely
at her face would be one way to try to find out who the father
really was. Another way would be to practice, to ask the child
and to tell the child--but this is not easy for Hester.
- The Puritans were not Protestants after the first
rebel from Catholicism, Martin Luther, but
followers of Calvin of Geneva.
Pearl deserves her own chapter after Chillingworth and
Hester. She is described rapidly from infancy to perhaps
seven years old. Pearl's dress and behavior are odd,
perhaps because of her isolated upbringing, and perhaps
in reaction to the cruel persecutions of other children.
Hester sees some possibility of supernatural causes--maybe
her father is the Devil.
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1999. 23 Sep. 1999. <br />
Eldred, Eric. Notes to Ch. 6, The Scarlet
Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.
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