Does Pearl sin in The Scarlet Letter or does she just represent sin?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the character of Pearl has different roles in the lives of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. Far from being a sinner herself, Pearl is the extension of Hester Prynne's sin and the agent of change in the lives of Hester, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Her entrance into this world prompted Hester's punishment, exile, and humiliation. Her existence is Dimmesdale's constant reminder of his own sin and weakness; a clear proof of the flawed notion that he is a man above reproach. Ultimately, Pearl is also the only reason why Chillingworth seeks revenge. She is the product of adultery, lies, and indiscretion.

Pearl is the character that moves the plot forward. If it had not been for Pearl being conceived, the actual scarlet letterwould have never been placed on Hester's bosom. However, far from being just "Hester's accident", Pearl defined Hester as an independent woman, and as a fighter. She also brings out the human side of Dimmesdale which everybody in the settlement aimed to push down in order to create a clay saint out of him. Ultimately, Pearl is the redeemer of Chillingworth; when the latter leaves her his earthly possessions he reforms himself and, perhaps, even finds his salvation.

Hence, Pearl is not a sinner. She is the product of sin. For this reason, she serves as the symbol of weakness, and indiscretion that causes change in the lives of Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. That is what, ultimately, could be her salvation from the sin that brought her to this world: that she had the capability of changing them and making them repent from their past actions.


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