How is Pearl both a sin and a joy to Hester?Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hester Prynne's child, Pearl, is her sin incarnate; yet, as her child she brings joy to her forlorn mother. In her interview with Governor Bellingham and the Reverend Wilson, who wish to take Pearl from Hester, Hester fiercely replies to them,

"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!"

As a constant reminder of her sin of passion, Pearl is the living scarlet letter that brings on the ridicule of the children and glances of the community.  She is the fruit of Hester's trangression that demands penitence, love, and patience.  For, Pearl laughs at the As exaggerated shape reflected in the governor's armor, she pelts her mother's mark of shame with burrs, she refuses to cross the brook until her mother replaces the cast off letter upon her bosom.  And, yet, she is a constant companion to the alienated woman bereft of all human companionship but hers. It is with Pearl, who holds her hand "in both her own" when they look up to the minister that Hester feels loved. It is with Pearl that Hester finally returns to the old country from which she has come; it is with Pearl that she has the joy of seeing her daughter married happily. It is with Pearl that Hester feels worthy, for her motherhood is fulfilled.

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