Do you think Pearl would have been more obedient and docile if Hester had taken a different approach to discipline in The Scarlet Letter?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hawthorne's early American novel, The Scarlet Letter, there is not the character development that is typical of modern novels.  In fact, little Pearl is more symbol than she is character.  In Chapter VIII when the Reverend Mr. Wilson asks Pearl her catechism, she tells him that she came from a rosebush, a statement that links her closely with nature.  That Hawthorne  links the product of Hester's and Arthur Dimmesdale's passion with nature is not unusual since Hawthorne was a Dark Romantic, and since Hester and Dimmesdale's sin is more natural than the strict Puritanical demands put upon them. 

Representative of the passion of the minister and Hester,  Pearl is impetuous and capricious intrinsically since throughout the narrative Hester makes futile efforts to control Pearl's laughter at her distorted image in the suit of armor, Pearl's throwing of thistles around the scarlet letter, and outbursts such as her refusal to come across the brook when they are in the forest.  Throughout Hawthorne's narrative, Pearl is referred to as an "imp," "elf-child," or "airy sprite."  These are creatures that are ethereal and cannot be controlled by mere humans.

It is not until the three of them are joined as a family on the scaffold in Chapter XXIII that Pearl moves from being other-worldly and becomes fully human, kissing her father:

The child, with the bird-like motion, which was one of her characteristics, flew to him, and clasped her arms about his knees.

Then, as Dimmesdale relinquishes life, he addresses his daughter,

...dear little Pearl, wilst thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not yonder in the forest!  But now thou wilt?

When he shows his sin to the community, Dimmesdale gives recognition to Pearl, thus admitting her to the community, and in this admission of their father-daughter relationship, Pearl becomes more human, and, thus, docile.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I certainly agree with both the above answers.  I loved this question, however, because it is something I think about every time I read the book.  Could Hester have done anything differently to better understand, and therefore connect to, her daughter?

Because Pearl is symbolic of the natural sense of truth that every other character seems to be denying, I wonder if Hester would have had a better connection with her daughter if she would have been completely honest and transparent with her.  It seems that even at a young age, Pearl's wisdom and understanding far surpass her size.  To me, she seems in a constant state of dissappointment, both with Dimmesdale's cowardess and Hester's innability to really assert herself.  What she doesn't understand (or accept) socially about the times she lives in, she more than makes up for in passion for what is true and real, which is what makes her such a relevant character to a modern audience.

I don't think there was an alternate approach Hester could have taken to discipline per se, but perhaps a completely different outlook on her place in society would have made her more the role model that Pearl needed, and desired.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hester was never a disciplinarian. It says it clearly in the story when it is narrated that one has nothing to worry about when it comes to Hester showing any kind of stern reaction to Pearl. In fact, she may have been a bit of a soft parent precisely because Pearl was her first child, and because of the circumstances under which she had her daughter. However, like the previous posters stated, Pearl is a representation of the sins of Hester, and for that reason she is not supposed to be a simple character with regular and typical (or expected) characteristics in style. She is supposed to be as stranger and as unique as the circumstances that made her. But, to be honest, several times in the story it made me want to discipline her.

dgschmidt eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to remember that Hawthorne has created Pearl to be as much a symbol as she is a character. Pearl is the constant reminder of Hester's sin; she is the personification of the scarlet “A” Hester wears. Indeed, Hester has fashioned Pearl as flamboyantly as the “A” Hester has fashioned for herself. Pearl’s outrageous behavior reflects this, shameful and public. Hester is at her mercy, and cannot alter Pearl’s behavior just as she cannot remove the “A” from her bodice. Pearl must be addressed in the context of her actions in the novel, so Hester could not have taken a different approach to discipline.


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The Scarlet Letter

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