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Consequences of Human Desire in the Scarlet Letter

In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, many of the characters suffer from the tolls of sin, but none as horribly as Hester’s daughter, Pearl. Throughout the novel, Pearl is a symbol of the sin that her mother has committed, and also suffers from this sin. Pearl is portrayed as an offspring of vice and is even characterized as demonic by her mother. The austere Puritan society isolates Pearl, causing animosity between her and the other Puritan children. Pearl is conceived in sin, is a constant reminder to Hester of the sin she has committed and suffers along with her mother.

Hester impresses her feelings of guilt onto Pearl, the reminder of her sin. Pearl has always had an attachment to the scarlet letter on her mother’s bosom. As an infant, Peal reached up and grabbed the scarlet letter, causing “Hester Prynne to clutch the fatal token…So infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl’s baby-hand” (Hawthorne 88). Every time that Hester sees Pearl, she has reminded of her sin and questions the permanent symbol of her sin in Pearl: “what is this being, which I have brought into this world!” Hester even asks “Child, what art thou?” as Pearl throws flowers at her mother “dancing up and down like a little elf whenever she hit the scarlet letter”(89). This is implying that Hester often saw Pearl as something other than a human child when Pearl constantly reminds her of her sin.

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Pearl is not only a symbol of the sin Hester committed, but she is often described as a living scarlet letter. The ordinary attire of a Puritan society was plain, gray or black clothes, however, Hester dresses Pearl extravagantly, “arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flourishes of gold thread” (93). These clothes, with abundant embroidery, are much like the crimson scarlet letter Hester wears. Pearl becomes no more than a manifestation based entirely on Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin; a living symbol to remind both Hester and Dimmesdale of their sin. Pearl is described as “the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!” (70)

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Hester often views Pearl’s existence as a demon sent to make her suffer. Hawthorne discusses that at times Hester is “feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain”(67). She even denies that this demon is her child, “Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine! (90) Pearl suffered along with her mother as she was alienated from society. “The talk to the neighbouring townspeople…had given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring” (91). In the forest scene, Hester is finally free of her sin as she throws the scarlet letter and lets her hair down. However, Pearl refuses to come to her unless she puts the scarlet letter back on. She is an echo of Hester’s fate, that the scarlet letter is her burden to carry and hers alone and that she cannot escape it.

When Hester is finally able to release her sin on the scaffold with Dimmesdale, Pearl is no longer a symbol of their fatal sin. She is now able to live her life without the weight of her mother’s voice. Pearl kisses Dimmesdale on the scaffold and “as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were a pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever to battle with the world, but be a woman to it” (233). Pearl can now leave America, the place of her mother’s sin and live a life of her own without Hester’s burden. Hester, however, still bears the burden and returns to America to carry it alone.

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, Pearl is the offspring of sin between Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale and is a constant symbol of this sin throughout the novel. Although Pearl often causes the suffering of Hester with her demonic behaviour, Pearl suffers along with her mother as an outcast of society who carries the burden of her mother’s wrongdoing.

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Consequences of Human Desire in the Scarlet Letter. (2021, Mar 02). Retrieved March 24, 2023, from