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How does Pearl's character in "The Scarlet Letter" reflect the duality of the...

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momoboo | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 23, 2008 at 6:49 AM via web

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How does Pearl's character in "The Scarlet Letter" reflect the duality of the Puritan community?

considering the way she dresses, her name, how both children and adults react to her, and her reaction to others

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katemschultz | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted August 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM (Answer #1)

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Pearl reflects this duality beautifully. Remember that the Puritans were people who believed in being good even if it meant being "evil" to others (such as how they shun Hester.)

Pearl dresses in brilliant clothes, which was a sign of vanity for the Puritans. However, these same Puritans come to Hester for seamstress work. Also, Pearl is a symbolic name--she is supposed to be rare, beautiful, and white--not dressed in beautiful colors.

One of the greatest ways Pearl embodies this is that she refuses to be restrained by the Puritan way of doing things. Hester has been shunned by the society but she wants to instill proper Puritan behavior into Pearl. Pearl rejects this behavior the same way the society has rejected her and her mother. Pearl is also at one with nature, which was a "forbidden" area for most Puritans (think of the things that happen in the woods verses the things that happen in town.)

Pearl also shuns the ideas and relationships with other people in town. They consider her a devil child for doing so, even though they have done the same thing to Hester.

To me, Pearl act like what we, today, would assume a "normal" rambunctious child would act like, rather than conforming to the restraint of the Puritans.

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timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted August 23, 2008 at 2:05 PM (Answer #2)

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The Puritan community's attitude toward Hester changed over time.  As the "A" came to mean Angel/Able, they came to accept the goodness that was part of her nature.

This same duality is present in Hester.  She accepts the punishment of the community for her violation of community standards, but it is clear that she does not feel that she has violated her own ethical standards:  "What we did had a consecration of its own" (Ch. 17). 

Hester has the same feelings toward Pearl who seems to contain both of these dualities.  Hester says it best:    

"God gave me the child!" cried she. "He gave
her, in requital of all things else, which ye had taken
from me. She is my happiness! -- she is my torture,
none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl
punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter,
only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a
million-fold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye
shall not take her! I will die first!"

Although Pearl can be an imp, she is always the "Pearl" of great price.   This ambiguity is present in much of Hawthorne's work --- things are not always as uncomplicated (undual?) as they appear.

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