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In The Scarlet Letter, what reasons are given for Hester to be allowed to keep Pearl?

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sophiyaxp | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted November 20, 2012 at 4:03 AM via web

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In The Scarlet Letter, what reasons are given for Hester to be allowed to keep Pearl?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 20, 2012 at 4:11 PM (Answer #1)

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Chapter VIII of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter, "The Elf-Child and the Minister", focuses on the struggle between Hester and the magistrates regarding Pearl. According to the magistrates, they hold a moral right over all citizens to guide them toward the moral path. For this reason, they feel that they have the task of removing Pearl from Hester, since the latter is a public symbol of sin.

Woman, it is thy badge of shame!” replied the stern magistrate. “It is because of the stain which that letter indicates, that we would transfer thy child to other hands

While Hester summons every bit of patience not to go off on the magistrates, she explains as calmly as she can words that she knew that the magistrate would rather hear;  that the badge has actually taught her to be a better person, and that she can teach through her shame a real life lesson to Pearl.

The magistrates were not quite listening, which prompts Hester to demand that Dimmesdale gives his own reasons (as her pastor, and as her counselor- and as the secret father of Pearl) as to why the magistrates should let Hester keep Pearl.

Dimmesdale's reasons were similar to Hester's, but he added a much-needed puritanical perspective. He said that the child came from God and is nevertheless a blessing. This blessing comes to do two things: to punish Hester by reminding her of her sin, and to please Hester in that Hester gets to fulfill her worldly task of motherhood. Moreover, the fact that God sent Pearl to Hester is, in Dimmesdale's view, reason enough to consider her untouchable, for it is a gift from God.

This child of its father's guilt and its mother's shame hath come from the hand of God, to work in many ways upon her heart, who pleads so earnestly, and with such bitterness of spirit, the right to keep her.

Regardless, of what sanctimonious reasons the magistrates may have to take Pearl away, the fact remains that Hester shows throughout the novel that she is willing to take her punishment, and to live with it for good. She is the first to be aware of Pearl's differences. She is also the first to admit that Pearl is both a force of punishment as well as joy. Hester may be a flawed character due to her evident fiery and rebellious nature, but she is never described as loose, or irresponsible, or careless. She is indeed a very caring woman with a heart so willing to love that it sometimes dictates her actions. Nevertheless, the novel shows from beginning to end that Hester is inherently what can be considered as a "good woman"; for those reasons she should be allowed to keep her child.

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