What does the scarlet letter mean to Pearl in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?

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favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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For Pearl, the scarlet letter seems to identify her mother, but it also serves as a symbol that sets her mother apart from the rest of the people in Boston (who Pearl, most assuredly, does not like).  Pearl thinks of them as being like "pine-trees, aged, black, and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze," and "the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children."  There is no love lost between Pearl and the others, but the bright and beautiful letter that her mother wears separates her from this group, makes her different, and that's a good thing. 

Pearl clearly thinks of the letter as a positive thing, something, even, she wants for herself.  One day, at the beach, "Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best as she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother's.  A letter, -- the letter A, -- but freshly green instead of scarlet!"  Hester is sort of horrified, but this makes it clear that Pearl really doesn't understand the meaning that their society has placed on the letter and that it is something she associates with her mother's goodness and difference.  In fact, the one time Pearl ever sees her mother take off the letter, in the forest with Dimmesdale, she refuses to come to her mother, and she "point[s] [her] small forefinger at Hester's bosom!"  Hester understands that Pearl is upset about her change in appearance.  However, Pearl's upset seems to go beyond that.  It's as though Hester, for Pearl, is no longer herself without the letter; Hester seems just like all the others in town, and this makes Pearl angry.

daveb's profile pic

daveb | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Since Pearl as at the very least a mischievous child, when her mother does not answer her in regards to its meaning, Pearl seems to enjoy making up meanings for it. Pearl also happens to be intelligent beyond her years, and so her guesses for what it could stand for are quite impressive.

For instance, one of Pearl's answers is that the letter means the same reason why the minister holds his hand over his heart. Since we know why Dimmesdale gets sicker and sicker, indeed, the letter means exactly what Pearl thought it did, though certainly in a figurative sense.

Dave Becker

renelane's profile pic

renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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To Pearl, the scarlet letter is a part of her mother. She has never known a time when her mother has not worn the letter, and she also seems to understand that it causes her mother great distress when Pearl focuses on it. Hester recalls vivdly Pearl, as an infant, reaching out for it, as babies do, yet it is symbolic for Hester. She feels almost as if baby Pearl could understand the meaning of the letter.

laurto's profile pic

laurto | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Pearl sees the Scarlet Letter as a symbol of her mother. She's seen her mother wearing it since she was born, so naturally she feels that it is a part of her mother.

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