In The Scarlet Letter, if Pearl is a symbol of two sides of Hester, which is most prominent and which does the greater good for Hester?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Pearl is a symbol of Hester's strong, passionate nature and her overwhelming love for Arthur Dimmesdale. She is also a symbol of moral lapse and the commission of sin. She acts as a living reminder every day that Hester has "fallen." But whose interpretations are these? Hester loves her daughter and finds joy and pride in her, but does she see Pearl as a symbol of sin? The community regards Pearl as the product of sin, and Hester appears to accept their view. However, she dresses Pearl in bright colors in stark contrast to the gray garments of the Puritans, and she tells Arthur that their "immoral" act was consecrated by love

For a while in the novel, it seems that Pearl (as a symbol of sin) is leading her mother to spiritual salvation. Hester herself makes this case when Pearl is about to be taken from her. However, when Hester has a reunion with Arthur in the forest, it becomes clear she has not repented for what the community perceives to have been their sin. She wants to leave with the man she loves, taking their daughter with them to enjoy a life together as a family.

All things considered, then, I would say that as symbol of Hester's love and passion, Pearl serves her mother better. It is Hester's love for Arthur and Pearl that sustains her for seven years as she endures the cruelty, humiliation, and condemnation inflicted upon her by the Puritan community. When Arthur dies, Hester takes Pearl and returns to England where Pearl grows up to enjoy a good life, having inherited Chillingworth's lands there. Hester eventually returns to the site of her adultery to live out her life:

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne, here, in New England, that in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence.

Even in Hester's "penitence," however, she does not abandon the idea that love itself is a consecration. Growing old, she counsels the troubled women of the vilage:

She assured them, too, of her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heaven's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness . . . showing how sacred love should make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to such an end!

At the end of her life, Hester rejects sin, but she does not condemn the love she felt for Arthur which was embodied in their daughter.


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