Why does Pearl pull away from Dimmesdale?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter XIX of The Scarlet Letter Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale stand on the other side of the brook as Hester calls to her daughter Pearl, who adorns herself with flowers in a "kindred wildness" with the "mother-forest."  When Pearl sees the minister, however, she slows down.  Despite her being the tie that unites the minister and Hester, Pearl perceives the minister as having entered the circle of herself with her mother.  Even her mother feels the Peal has

...strayed out of the sphere in which she and her mother dwelt together, and was not vainly seeking to return to it.

The "sensitive minister" also feels that the brook is a boundary between two worlds.  As Hester encourages Pearl to cross, the child fixes her gaze upon them both; Dimmesdale places his hand upon his chest for some "unaccountable reason."  Then, Pearl points to the scarlet letter floating in the brook, bursting into "a fit of passion" until Hester reaches down and replaces the letter upon her bosom.  Reminiscent of actions in Chapter II is this action of Pearl.  For when Hester is tempted there to cover up her letter with Pearl, she realizes the "one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another."  Now, in this scene of Chapter XIX "the other token of shame" is the Reverend Dimmesdale.  After Hester replaces her letter, Pearl crosses the brook.  But, with Dimmesdale's having covered his secret letter of sin, Pearl asks her mother if the minister, whom Hester says waits to welcome her, will go back hand in hand with them to town or cover his heart with his hand.  To these questions, Hester does not reply.  So, when the minister bends and kisses the child on the forehead, Pearl pulls away, rushes to the brook, and washes off the kiss.  Nor does she walk with them; instead, "she remained apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman. For, Pearl, the symbol of Hester's sin, recognizes  in her mother's lack of response to her questions that Dimmesdale will not be like her mother; he will not, as Hawthorne urges in the final chapter and as Hester is, "be true" and acknowledge Hester and their child in public.

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