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In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mr. Wilson asks Pearl, "Canst thou tell...

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mamacheychey | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 3, 2013 at 10:54 PM via web

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In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mr. Wilson asks Pearl, "Canst thou tell me, my child, Who made thee?" What was Pearl's answer? 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 3, 2013 at 11:41 PM (Answer #1)

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In chapter eight of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester takes Pearl with her to the governor's mansion so she can plead her case before the governor himself. There has been talk in the town of removing Pearl from Hester, and Hester is determined that will never happen. The governor, two ministers, and Roger Chilllingworth are all present.

Governor Bellingham asks the older minister, John Wilson, to question Pearl to see what things Hester has been teaching--or not teaching--her about God and her faith. The interview is marked for disaster from the beginning.

First of all, Pearl is unused to being in so much company, as she is usually alone with her mother. Second, John Wilson tries to be kind of grandfatherly to Pearl and have her come very close so he can talk with her personally; this backfires because Pearl is unused to any man's touch and she runs away. Finally, Pearl is very young and has a capricious temperament besides. We have seen how she treats her mother, so we should not be surprised when she acts capriciously during this questioning. She is just as likely to answer "I am a butterfly" or "you have a big nose" as she is to tell the truth.

Neither knowing nor caring about such things, the minister begins the interview, and this is the first question Wilson asks the girl:

"Pearl," said he, with great solemnity, "thou must take heed to instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great proce. Canst thout tell me, my child, who made thee?"

Though Pearl is only three years old, the narrator tells us that Pearl does know the answer to this question, as Hester has been a faithful teacher in these matters. Nevertheless, Pearl's answer reflects nothing but the imagination and capriciousness of a toddler. 

After putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's question, the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison-door.

Of course this is seen as evidence, at least by the two older men, that Hester is not a fit mother for the child, and they do not intend to let Pearl's soul slip away through their own or Hester's neglect. Hester demands that Dimmesdale, her own pastor, plead her case, and he is able to dissuade the men from taking Pearl away from her. If they had done so, Hester would have had no reason to live.

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Lori Steinbach

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